You Are What You Eat – Under a Northern Sky

Northern Lights, Polar Bears, and Food... RAW:Churchill
Northern Lights, Polar Bears, and Food...

THUNDER BAY –  I have never really had a good diet. I love starchy meals, fatty snacks, sugary pop, creamy sauces, salty treats and in general fried food. As a child, in my home community of Attawapiskat, it was common for my mom to make us large suppers of wild meat accompanied with potatoes or white rice. Vegetables were almost taboo. They were hard to find, pricey and our culture had never warmed up to them. When it came to snacks, myself and my siblings would sneak into the kitchen to grab a slice or two of white bread and cover it with butter or sometimes we used pure white lard. Mom and dad could never keep a loaf of bread around the house for long with so many mouths to feed.

My mom and dad always did the best they could when it came to feeding us but the cost to purchase healthy foods was very high due to the fact they had to be transported to us by aircraft. We as a people had never been exposed historically to vegetables and most fruits so they were more or less alien to us. We had at one point a traditional diet of moose, geese and fish but all that changed when my people had to move to small permanent reserve settlements. At that time we were also introduced to alcohol, recreational smoking and modern foods.

When I was young, every Friday was reserved for a feast of fresh fried fish that my  uncle Leo sold to us. He was one of the last real traditional fishermen in Attawapiskat. I recall that Catholic tradition of ours on Friday as mom always fried up a gigantic tray of fresh battered trout.

In the winter months because of a need to stay warm in freezing temperatures everyone ate more fatty, sugary and rich foods. This is still common place up north. As I grew older, I watched the toll that unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking alcohol took on my family members and neighbours. When I was young I could afford to eat like a food junky, I smoked and I drank. Slowly I observed that all of the older people around me began to suffer from heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The Elders, my mom and dad and teachers cautioned myself and my peers about eating fatty, sugary foods, smoking and drinking alcohol but it went in one ear and out the other. Thankfully with some education and added health services in the community people began to be aware of the importance of diet and exercise.

When I left the James Bay coast to live in the non-Native world in the south my bad eating habits followed me. Now I had access to inexpensive, 24 hour, drive thru, fast foods of all types. I was in junk food heaven. For years I was addicted to this lifestyle. I did manage to quit smoking and dealt with my alcoholism. I decided those challenges were enough to handle for the time being.

I hate to say it but I am showing signs of age. My body does not seem to react as it once did when I was younger. Everything I do now with physical work seems to require great effort and I have been suffering muscle injuries more often with vigorous activity. My metabolism has changed drastically and I am aware of the damage an unhealthy diet has on me.

For the past few years I have been trying to live a more healthy lifestyle in term of diet and exercise but it has been difficult to stick to my goals.  I have heard enough sad stories of how bad habits over a lifetime have affected people near and dear to me. Recently, I have made more of an effort to cut down on meat, eat mostly raw vegetables, drink more water and cut out sugary and fatty foods. Thanks to encouragement from my friend Juanita Luke from Mattagami First Nation I am getting serious about eating well. She suggested a great book ‘How Not To Die’ by Dr. Michael Greger. He is an amazing man who has dedicated his life to promoting healthy eating as a means to stay away from developing disease, live longer and even reverse serious illness. He also has a very informative website at:

After a lifetime of eating an unhealthy diet I am finding it hard to change as I am craving junk food all the time. I am also applying my knowledge and skills I learned from Alcoholics Anonymous to help me on my journey to better eating. I try not to force myself to look too far ahead or take on too much at one time. I plan on ‘taking it one day at a time’, ‘I’m taking it easy’ and I will ‘keep it simple’.

To young people I suggest they learn as much as possible about healthy diet, staying fit, the danger of drugs and alcohol and how devastating smoking can be. If you figure some of this out now you won’t be having terrible health problems when you are in your 40s, 50s and 60s. You are what you eat really does ring true.

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Under The Northern Sky is the title of a popular Aboriginal news column written by First Nation writer, Xavier Kataquapit, who is originally from Attawapiskat Ontario on the James Bay coast. He has been writing the column since 1997 and it is is published regularly in newspapers across Canada. In addition to working as a First Nation columnist, his writing has been featured on various Canadian radio broadcast programs. Xavier writes about his experiences as a First Nation Cree person. He has provided much insight into the James Bay Cree in regards to his people’s culture and traditions. As a Cree writer, his stories tell of the people on the land in the area of Attawapiskat First Nation were he was born and raised.