Harvesting Hope in Northern Manitoba

By Thompson, Shirley; Lozecznik, Vanessa | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall/Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Harvesting Hope in Northern Manitoba


Thompson, Shirley, Lozecznik, Vanessa, Women & Environments International Magazine


Can Participatory Video Help Rebuild Aboriginal Food Sovereignty?

The video "Harvesting Hope in Northern Manitoba Communities" explores issues of food sovereignty in Canadian Aboriginal communities. Thompson and Lozecznik report on a participatory video project that empowered First Nations communities in northern Manitoba to articulate food security concerns and develop strategies for addressing these issues.

Community members in northern Manitoba collaborated with researchers on a participatory video to tell their story of the challenges to, and the possibilities for, food sovereignty. The story became richer and more accurate after repeated community showings. The iterative process ensured the participatory video valued local knowledge of traditional food harvesting, providing a rich history of food sovereignty in Manitoba. Feedback from community members was very positive - people loved sharing their stories and seeing northerners represented in media. They pushed to have it distributed to all schools. The result is a video that explores the challenges and solutions from grassroots experts and a video that teaches and inspires.

First Nations Food Security in Canada

People should be able to both make a living and eat according to the definition created at the Forum for Food Sovereignty: "Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." This definition links food security with sustainable livelihoods.

Historically, First Nations food security rested on people's relationship to the land and its productivity. Traditional economies, governments, social and spiritual practices of Aboriginal peoples were systematically disrupted by the imposition of the Indian Act, and the reserve and residential school systems by settlers.

In 1996, Canada rated first in the world on the United Nations Development Index; however, First Nations communities in Canada were rated 63rd. The same inequity exists today; many households in First Nations communities are food insecure, as well as lacking running water and sewer systems.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba conducted a survey in 14 First Nations communities in northern Manitoba in 2009 and found household food insecurity rates of 75% in northern Manitoba, which is eight times the Canadian rate. These findings were the impetus for a participatory video project.

Participatory Video

Participatory video is a set of techniques to involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film to tell their own story. Participatory video is credited with enhancing individual and community confidence, self-esteem, creativity, and capacity to communicate with others. According to the Society for People's Education, Empowerment and Development Trust, participatory video is able to amplify the voice of the underprivileged.

Production of "Harvesting Hope in Northern Manitoba"

Filming in northern Manitoba, we found video to be a door opener in most of the communities we visited, with many people, particularly elders, wanting to tell their stories. Participatory research and Aboriginal culture both focus on oral transmission of knowledge. One woman elder says in the video, "I am not going to go the grave with what I know." While we trained community members and provided cameras, most footage in the video was filmed by researchers who interviewed community members about their own stories and issues.

There were repeated community viewings of the footage at various stages of production as part of the participatory process. During these viewings, community members identified four key themes: 1) the importance of country foods; 2) factors undermining food sovereignty; 3) high rates of food insecurity; and 4) foodbased community economic development. …

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