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Open Access Research article

Giving voice to food insecurity in a remote indigenous community in subarctic Ontario, Canada: traditional ways, ways to cope, ways forward

Kelly Skinner1*, Rhona M Hanning1, Ellen Desjardins2 and Leonard JS Tsuji13

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

2 Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

3 Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:427  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-427

Published: 2 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Food insecurity is a serious public health issue for Aboriginal people (First Nations [FN], M├ętis, and Inuit) living in Canada. Food security challenges faced by FN people are unique, especially for those living in remote and isolated communities. Conceptualizations of food insecurity by FN people are poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of food insecurity by FN adults living in a remote, on-reserve community in northern Ontario known to have a high prevalence of moderate to severe food insecurity.

Methods

A trained community research assistant conducted semi-directed interviews, and one adult from each household in the community was invited to participate. Questions addressed traditional food, coping strategies, and suggestions to improve community food security and were informed by the literature and a community advisory committee. Thematic data analyses were carried out and followed an inductive, data-driven approach.

Results

Fifty-one individuals participated, representing 67% of eligible households. The thematic analysis revealed that food sharing, especially with family, was regarded as one of the most significant ways to adapt to food shortages. The majority of participants reported consuming traditional food (wild meats) and suggested that hunting, preserving and storing traditional food has remained very important. However, numerous barriers to traditional food acquisition were mentioned. Other coping strategies included dietary change, rationing and changing food purchasing patterns. In order to improve access to healthy foods, improving income and food affordability, building community capacity and engagement, and community-level initiatives were suggested.

Conclusions

Findings point to the continued importance of traditional food acquisition and food sharing, as well as community solutions for food systems change. These data highlight that traditional and store-bought food are both part of the strategies and solutions participants suggested for coping with food insecurity. Public health policies to improve food security for FN populations are urgently needed.

Keywords:
Canada; First Nations; Food security; Nutrition policy; Poverty; Remote; Coping strategies