Agriculture has a role to play as country acts on reconciliation

Every Canadian has a role to play in reconciliation. | File photo

Canadian agriculture has a role to play in reconciliation.

The important role of reconciliation was once again made painfully clear when the remains of 215 children were found on the site of a former residential school in British Columbia.

It is the latest example of why Canada’s residential school system has been described as “cultural genocide.”

For readers of this column, it should serve as another reminder on the important work we can all play in reconciliation.

In our world, it’s worth remembering there were agricultural provisions included in the numbered treaties that govern the majority of relations between First Nations and Canada on the Prairies.

Over time, that relationship has been damaged.

Finding the unmarked graves of 215 kids demonstrates the extent of that damage.

Agriculture was a powerful colonial tool. The land, and at least some of the knowledge to create Canada’s food system, were taken from First Nations.

Within decades of those treaties being signed, the federal government changed laws to dispossess First Nations of prime farmland. For example, the Indian Act allowed uncultivated lands to be leased, and then surrendered to, non-Indigenous farmers.

This helped contribute to the loss of land held by First Nations.

Land claim settlements and government programming have sought to right some of those wrongs, but the legacy of that policy lives on.

Despite agriculture being practised on about four million acres of First Nations reserve land in Saskatchewan, much of it is being done by non-Indigenous farmers. Conversely, and disturbingly, First Nations people continue to report some of the highest rates of food insecurity.

Change is possible, however.

First Nations continue to make progress on how to best manage agricultural land holdings, as well as encourage members to enter into the field.

As more attention is paid to the issue, it’s expected more First Nations will become involved in the sector.

The federal government recently extended the deadline for applying to the Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative because of “high demand.”

Run by Agriculture Canada, the program is meant to “support Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs who are ready to launch agriculture and food systems projects and others who want to build their capacity to participate in the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector.”

By offering programs like this, the federal government is removing barriers to entry for Indigenous people that have long existed in agriculture.

The high demand indicates there is an appetite for more Indigenous-agriculture focused programming and governments should take note of it.

Stakeholders should encourage more of it.

There are easier, more tangible steps for those involved in agriculture to become an ally in reconciliation.

If you haven’t done so already, read through the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation committee. If you have read them, read them again.

Another important step we can all take is by engaging in anti-racism.

Without doubt this can lead to some uncomfortable conversations, but we all need to take responsibility to call out racism when we see it.

Every Canadian has a role to play in reconciliation.

Those of us involved in agriculture are not exempt.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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