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Adapting to coronavirus: how B.C. First Nations balance food security and conservation

Indigenous communities, among Canada’s most food-insecure, navigate unique challenges when it comes to traditional harvesting practices during the COVID-19 lockdown — especially in areas affected by climate change, industrial development and declining wildlife populations

Stephanie Wood Apr 14, 2020

When Chief Byron Louis was a boy, he would walk into his grandmother’s root cellar and see a combination of garden and traditional foods.

The 58-year-old, now chief of the Okanagan Indian Band, remembers that cellar well. He said it was filled with fresh produce from their gardens, tree fruits and canned vegetables and meats.

“You’d look up into the shelves, you’d see saskatoons, you’d see huckleberries, you’d see soap berries,” he said, adding that the stocked cellar was necessary “so we could survive” since they didn’t rely on any outside supply. 

“No one should be more prepared for a pandemic than us,” Louis told The Narwhal.

And yet, two generations later, these kinds of food stores and the abundant fruit and vegetable gardens that supplied them are no longer common, Louis said.

Even before the novel coronavirus had people competing for food, a 2019 report found that 48 per cent of Indigenous households living on reserves and 23 per cent living off reserves face food insecurity. That’s a staggeringly high level when compared to the rate for all households across Canada: 8.4 per cent. 

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