Tapping into tradition to support food security in Indigenous communities in the Maritimes

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By: Melanie MacDonald, Communications Coordinator

Rows of seeds in planters, lining shelves.Women of First Light is a not-for-profit organization led by Indigenous women in the Maritimes that seeks to heal communities, families and society by remembering and returning to the traditional ways of their ancestors. 
The group has reintroduced land-based learning activities, such as community gardens in several communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as a tool for education to support food security for Indigenous communities.
Founding member Judy Googoo of Wagmatcook First Nation believes diet is a significant factor in why many people in her community have diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“People on social assistance can only afford to buy the cheapest foods available and that usually excludes produce,” said Googoo.
To help ensure a diet that includes produce, and with funding from the Government of Canada, distributed by the Canadian Red Cross, Women of First Light recently purchased two pressure cookers and a pallet of canning jars. They will distribute fresh vegetables and canned goods to community members in need, including elders and single mothers. As freezers are limited in size and can be expensive, two-day canning workshops will also be held in both communities.
Miigam’agan, a Mi’Kmaq clan mother from Esgenoopetitj First Nation is excited to learn gardening and looks forward to the canning workshops.
“I want to learn healthy ways of preserving food without a lot of salt or sugar,” said Miigam’agan. “We need our food to be as fresh and healthy as possible. This helps bring back a sustainable way of life.”
Community gardens with boxes of gardening patches.The group is happy to receive the funding. The community gardens will reintroduce a healthy way of eating and help supplement people’s diets to prevent illness. Wagmatcook will have thermal greenhouses to grow food in the winter and Esgenoopetitj is extending its growing time with a three-season greenhouse. Youth often come to pick vegetables to take home with them as well.
Miigam’agan adds that providing food security, as well as the deeper work of reclaiming what was lost, helps the community to reconnect with its first mother, the land. “The land is a great influence on our thought patterns. We see life around us as one. At the centre of our culture is the spirit of life – our children. We strive to re-awaken the childlike way of being present, curious, learning, and observing.”
To help ensure connections between members and Elders are maintained during COVID-19, the organization also used the Red Cross funding to purchase a laptop to allow for virtual meetings.
“We normally meet every year in June for our annual community gathering where members come for support and guidance,” said coordinator Ishbel Munro. “It’s been an especially difficult year for us. The young miss being able to sit with their elders.”
This program was supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.

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