It’s still possible to live totally off the land, NAN official

Chronicle Journal – Sept 22, 2015

By Carl Clutchey, CJ staff

A new website may rejuvenate interest among First Nation people living on Ontario’s remote reserves in the most fundamental of traditional lifestyle: living off the land.

Launched Monday by Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Kiitigaan Aski website intends to encourage self-sufficiency in food and act as information exchange among NAN’s 49 communities “on how to harvest their own supplies of quality, nutritious food.”

In Oji-Cree, Kiitigaan means “good things growing on the land.”

The website is part of a six-prong “food strategy” to ensure a supply of affordable and nutritious food, including an emphasis on local production and imported foods.

NAN Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose said there is a hunger among youth and older generations alike to resume traditional food gathering activities.

“Very much so,” said Waboose, who is from Eabametoong First Nation, located about 300 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

“They do want to get back into it, and I think you can see that in the annual spring and fall hunts.”

A quote from an elder at the Kiitigaan website says: “We need to teach our young people not to forget how to hunt, fish and trap, and to gather medicines and berries from the land that were used to make ourselves heal.”

Waboose said game and fish remain plentiful; remote lakes and rivers have not been fished out.

“My grandfather and father always taught me to take only what you need, and give any extra to people who can no longer go out, like our elders,” he said.

Waboose said it’s still possible to live completely off the land, “but it would pretty-much be a full-time vocation.”

A reliance on remote reserves on canned goods and other processed foods high in sugar and salt has resulted in an “epidemic” of obesity and heart disease, said a NAN news release.

Waboose said many reserve residents on fixed incomes opt for canned goods because they are cheaper. He noted that in many NAN communities, a loaf of bread can cost up to $7, while a four-litre bag of milk can go for more than $10.

NAN is also encouraging the use of “community gardens” that are able to produce root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, despite the short growing season in the province’s far north.

Waboose said hunting and fishing activities declined in the 1960s and 1970s, as more NAN members moved from traditional hunting areas into reserves to be close to schools and medical facilities.

“This was a result of (federal) policy,” Waboose said. “They would start by building a school, and then some homes for some families.”

In more recent years, efforts to hunt and fish have been negatively impacted by environmental contamination, government restrictions, lack of resources to purchase equipment and fuel to get out on the land, said a NAN release.

A food-distribution study among NAN communities is underway, the release added.