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«Amazay Lake Photo by Patrice Halley Draft Submission to the Kemess North Joint Review Panel May, 2007 Report Prepared By: Loraine Littlefield Linda ...»

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As the number of mining development projects continues to rise in BC, it will be increasingly important to understand the potential impacts of these projects on First Nations who rely on the land for food, medicine and cultural identity. Land-use conflicts occur where resource extraction results in concerns for community health, economic development and environmental protection. The links between perceived risk and health can play an important role in the negotiations around resource development in situations where value systems and knowledge come into conflict. Incorporating the environmental values and knowledge of First Nations is an important step towards empowering these groups to participate in the destiny of their communities and for improving the health and well being of BC’s First Nations.


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By Pam Tobin Master’s Candidate, Interdisciplinary MA University of Northern British Columbia 3333 University Way Prince George, B.C.

V2N 4Z9


The social and cultural experiences of food security in the Takla Lake First Nation: Informing Public Health Introduction The traditional territory of Takla Lake First Nation is located in northern British Columbia and is considered to be isolated, accessible by logging roads from Fort St. James, the nearest service town. The population on-reserve is approximately 170 and registered band members are approximately 750.

Since the 1960’s, extensive industrial activity has been one of the major contributors to the shift from traditional to western diet which has been determined to have negative health outcomes on this population. Social and cultural changes have also been recorded following industrial development. These changes have put the people of Takla Landing at risk of endangering their traditional way of life. The members of Takla Landing have expressed concerns over their traditional food sources and the continued diminishment while their voices are often not heard.

Project Description

The health of the First Nations population in Canada is worse than that of the general Canadian population in almost every health measure and there is considerable evidence that many of the health problems of aboriginal people are related to diet (Willows, 2005).

Food security is an important aspect of First Nations health that has been identified as a growing concern (Che & Chen, 2003; First Nations Health Commission, 1993). First Nations communities are typically isolated, have a lower socioeconomic status than the rest of Canada, and are faced with inflated costs of food (Hanley et al, 2000).

Additionally, government policy has further restricted their way of life since contact. The long term effects of these impositions on this population are reaching widespread proportions.

Food security refers to the concept of ‘people having access to enough nutritional food for an active, healthy life and the ability to acquire these foods in socially acceptable ways’ (Holben & Myles, 2004). There are various determinants of healthy eating but the one that presents itself time and again in the literature is the relationship between socioeconomic status and diet (Willows, 2005; Duhaime et al, 2004; Paci et al, 2004). A common criticism of the food security literature is that the links between socioeconomic status and diet are not well understood and may operate very differently in particular geographical and cultural contexts, a consideration that is not well handled using more ‘traditional’ epidemiological research methods (e.g., Willows, 2005). For this reason, public health must look beyond a simplistic view of decision making and recognize the complexity of policy formation for these determinants of health. A major objective of my thesis, therefore, is to explore food security issues in the particular social and cultural context of a remote First Nations community in northern BC.

For First Nations, decisions about diet and healthy practices must be considered in particular cultural contexts. For instance, contemporary conditions of poverty are tied to historical-cultural legacies of colonialism. Forced relocation, impacts of residential schools and denial of cultural practices along with industrial development throughout their territory have had long term effects on socioeconomic status. This, in turn, leads to poor health outcomes such as unhealthy dietary choices. These patterns of health and behaviour must be understood in this historical context in order to inform better public health policy and practice.


This project incorporates a mixed methods qualitative approach to the research through the use of interviews, participant observation, and respondent validation. Fieldwork for this project began during the summer months of 2006. A total of 15 elders were interviewed: 13 in the community of Takla Landing and 2 elders who were visiting in Prince George. These interviews were audio taped, hand written notes were taken during the interview and field notes complemented this data collection. The interviews were transcribed and themes were extracted.

Secondary data collection involved a literature review of academic sources which also helped validate the findings from the interviews. This review includes information on food security in general, as well as a discussion on public health practice and health promotion and aboriginal food security in context.

Preliminary Findings Analysis of the transcribed interviews resulted in four main themes. These themes help to

answer my research questions which are as follows:

• How and why has diet for the Takla Lake First Nation changed since the 1960’s?

• What are their present views on their diet?

• How can we use this knowledge to better inform socially and culturally appropriate nutrition education and public health interventions?

• How can these interventions be carried out in ways that build on the strengths of the Takla Lake First Nation?

These themes are preliminary only and include intergenerational discontinuity, colonial influences, sense of place, and the merging of traditional and western diets and lifestyles.

Intergenerational Discontinuity

Not surprisingly, given that I was speaking with elders in the community, issues of intergenerational discontinuities were dominant. Many of the elders told me that they teach their grandchildren their traditional way of knowing. They often said that they felt children today get too much exposure to western ideologies without knowing their own culture. It is interesting to note that the parents of the grandchildren do not teach their children traditional activities or oral histories. When I inquired about this, I was often told that residential school was the main reason for this discontinuity in traditional knowledge. Not all elders attended residential school but by the time they had children it was mandatory to attend.

Industrial development was also a factor in destroying traditional knowledge. Once companies started to come into their territory and roads and rail lines were constructed to give easier access to the outside world, drugs and alcohol abuse soon followed. However, although this community has been faced with destruction of their way of life, the elders I spoke with are very strong willed and committed to ensuring the children today are raised with skills in their own culture. Some rituals that were once common but not allowed under the residential school system are being reincorporated into the children’s lives.

Colonial Influences

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