World Food Day 2020

A parable about land

By Abra Brynne, Executive Director

Imagine you and your family live in a lovely house. It is the place you grew up in. The doorframe into the mudroom has notches that documented yours and your siblings growing bodies over the years, as you got taller and taller – and now there are new notches tracking the growth of your own children. 

Out in the backyard, there is the most awesome tree in whose branches you played, swung and built the tree fort, and from those lofty heights you surveyed the world around. Nearby, there is the “pet cemetery” where generations of cats and dogs have been lovingly buried at the end of their lives. You experience deep joy watching your children discover the delights that kept you entertained and that taught you so much throughout your childhood.

The broad expanse of the yard allows for a variety of fruit and nut trees. The vegetable garden is the envy of the neighbourhood, for both its beauty and abundant annual harvests that provide a secure source of food that is preserved and savoured over the long winter months.  

Your partner and children now live there with you, carrying forward the traditions from your childhood and creating new ones with the next generation. There is space for all of you to play, work, and eat – to live together. Your family is strong, content, and thriving. 

Then one day, some people come to the door. They are new to the neighbourhood and do not yet have a place to stay, know where the best sources of food are, or truly understand just how cold a Canadian winter can be. So you welcome them in. The guest bedroom is free so it seems only appropriate to share the space, even though it is not clear how long they will be staying. 

Soon their belongings are spread around the house. They and their activities take up more and more room and it is harder for your family members to access the bathroom when they need to. The kitchen table is too crowded at meals and the extra people means that your stores of food are diminishing rapidly. 

Things are getting more and more uncomfortable and the “guests” start to seem threatening. They invade every aspect of your home, use your tools, play, eat and sleep in the spaces that once were yours without question. Eventually, you and your family are forced from your home. You are allowed to stay on the property, but you must confine yourselves to one small corner, along the fence-line and are not permitted to enter the house nor even to harvest from your once abundant gardens. As winter sets in, you and your family are more and more miserable and worried about how to survive. 

This is a story of injustice, readily recognized by most as such. It is also a parable that seeks to convey that land is foundational to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation will never be realized as long as settlers are unwilling to acknowledge and address the profound wrongs of stealing the land and waters from the First Peoples of what is commonly called Canada.

To this day, the vast majority of the region called British Columbia is un-ceded Indigenous territory. We, the settlers, did to Indigenous peoples of these places where they have lived since time immemorial, what the guests did to the happy homeowners in my parable. Using the might and the legal systems of Canada and British Columbia, we have defined small reservations within which the Indigenous Peoples are supposed to remain and be able to meet their cultural, spiritual and material needs. And over all the land – in or out of reservations – we have imposed a foreign legal system and regulations. We have pushed the Indigenous People to the corner of what was once their “yard” and imposed a new set of customs and laws.

I know that food is intimately connected to land. And I have also learned that silence is violence in the context of systemic racism.  So on this World Food Day – and every day – I acknowledge that I am a squatter on Indigenous Land.

As a settler, I do not know what a path to land justice will look in the places that I call home. But I do know that if I want to be in right relationship with the land, I must enter into courageous, inevitably uncomfortable, but necessary conversations with the people who are Indigenous to this place – conversations that will lead to changes I cannot now imagine. 

In 2020, the Food Policy Council formally integrated into our work addressing systemic racism in food systems. We are in the process of establishing a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion working group so that we can more deeply understand and act upon the many ways in which systemic racism affects who has access to land and food, and who may be harmed by the ways in which we are fed. 

If you are interested in our work, please reach out to us.

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