Under the Northern Sky: The Farmers Are Real Heroes

Under the Northern Sky

by Xavier Kataquapit

I have been enjoying all kinds of meat and produce from local farmers here in northern Ontario. This is a time of the year I look forward to because with summer comes all the fresh vegetables like lettuce, celery, cucumbers, carrots and many more green, yellow and red veggies. I like to cook and as my partner has a health issue that restricts our moving around like we once did, much of my time is taken with doing stuff around the house and coming up with interesting meals.

Back in my home community as I was growing up in Attawapiskat we mainly had a diet of wild meat and fish. Much of the time my family and friends were on the land doing our traditional hunting and gathering. We ate a lot of goose, caribou, moose and fresh fish. It was not as easy to just visit a grocery store for our food as we had to travel out on to the land to harvest animals, birds and fish. This was a huge deal as we had to do a lot of preparation and use either boats in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter to get to our traditional lands where our ancestors had been hunting and gathering forever.

Personally these days I am living a very quiet life and part of that has to do with being clean and sober while also getting a little older and occupied with my writing and caring for my partner who deals every day with a health issue. For the past many years I have been eating more and more vegetable dishes and I have come to understand the benefits of eating a low carb, low sugar, sufficient protein and veggie diet. I don’t really have a choice at this point as I have a problem with arthritis and I  need to make sure I am not eating food that will cause a lot of inflammation which exacerbates my condition. I also am trying to provide better diets for myself and my partner because our health really depends on it.

That old saying, you are what you eat, really is true.

Growing up back home we did not have a lot of access to store food and people joked about eating vegetables as compared to chomping away on grass. We also had problems back then in terms of dealing with colonization that resulted in many changes in our traditional way of life and the lack of being able to make a sufficient living to buy the very expensive items at our local store. This resulted in a lot of people resorting to eating processed foods like wieners or hot dogs, junk processed and canned foods and sugar based treats or drinks. My ancestors had no junk food or sugar in their diets and they were stronger for it. Today, diabetes, cancer and heart disease is like an epidemic in Indigenous communities across Canada and too many of my people are over weight, don’t have a healthy diet and are not getting enough exercise.

For a few years now I have come to appreciate our local farmers for all of the great beef, pork and chicken they produce and make available at farmers markets and even with delivery to the door. Right now in August we have markets with all kinds of wonderful fresh vegetables and I try to stock up while they are available. I make sure to search for great garlic also as I use this in a lot of meals I come up with. I also have developed an interest in using a lot of different spices to make things more tasty.

Healthy diets really matter in terms of keeping us in good health. Then again I am also aware that our society is top heavy with billionaires, then there are the rich people who have millions, then the receding and struggling middle class and finally the poor. Many families can’t afford to eat healthy as many of the good choices are more expensive. We need to have more programs that spread the wealth around so that there is no such thing as a poor person in this country. We have to work towards making sure that everyone has access to a healthy diet and that means pushing back on the junk food corporations that are making us fat and sick.

So thanks to all those working to make our society more fair and just and to the farmers who go to work every day to produce all the food and produce we need and often at the mercy of corporations, grocery giants and governments so that they struggle to make a living. They are real heroes.

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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.