Mr. Speaker, as I usually do when I rise in the House, I want to acknowledge that we are on unceded, traditional Algonquin territory. I want to thank my Algonquin brothers and sisters for this opportunity to rise on their territory.
I also want to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, who, in my eyes, is the quintessential Canadian parliamentarian.
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs agrees with me on that.
This week, we have been hearing about the need for Canada to move towards reconciliation. It was an intense week for many of us, including me. We heard about the need for constructive action to address ongoing colonialization that impacts education, health, child welfare, economic opportunities, justice, and much more in indigenous communities across this country.
We have heard the recommendation that the government create a more equitable and inclusive society by closing the gaps in social, health, and economic outcomes among indigenous peoples of this land. I propose that the logical first step would be to fix nutrition north and to implement a sustainable northern strategy based on the recommendations and knowledge of the people living in the north.
Patterns of land use in northern communities have gone through extensive changes during the last 50 years. This is mostly from southerners imposing ideas, legislation, and regulations on territories and communities that face a very different reality than those in the south. Relocation, settlement, and the introduction of a wage-based economy have permanently altered indigenous land use and cultural practices.
Northern communities live in food deserts, geographic regions with limited access to diverse and nutritious food. The availability of imported, prepackaged foods outweighs access to ancestral and healthy foods, leading to diet-based illnesses such as type II diabetes, for instance.
A shift to a wage-based economy means that many do not have the time necessary for hunting, fishing, and gathering berries and medicines.
The government needs to listen to this old knowledge found in conversations with community elders, land-based stories, cultural models, and research produced by communities themselves in order to create sustainable, responsive, and respectful solutions to the problems faced by northern communities.
When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for instance, goes out on the water to do a species population count, they need to listen to the communities and work with the knowledge of community elders to do the job properly. The last beluga count in Quaqtaq, where I was a couple of weeks ago, was done in 1985. The DFO came at the wrong time of year to do the count. The beluga had already migrated further along.
The hunting quotas of today are based on faulty research from 30 years ago. This community wants to be able to feed its members by hunting, and yet they are restricted. This is a very innovative community that is researching hydroponic growing systems to raise vegetables indoors at the 61st parallel.
Quaqtaq knows what it needs to be sustainable and provide for all community members. I propose the government should listen to that community.
Last week, the minister responsible for the nutrition north program showed his seriously flawed understanding of what climate change is and how it works when he tried to joke that a warmer climate would make food costs in the north more affordable. He also showed how poorly he understands what lies at the heart of the food crisis in the north. Global climatic destabilization has already changed how we raise, harvest and distribute our food. It takes just a little unpredictable, uncharacteristic weather pattern to demonstrate how fragile our food systems are.
At the moment, the current model is not prepared for catastrophic climate shifts that challenge food chains, migratory patterns, growing and harvesting conditions, and transportation on winter roads. Northern peoples have thousands of years of knowledge on how to live well with the cold. The government must listen to them when they tell us that climate change is changing the way that people live and provide food for their families.
When a community's survival depends on maintaining a total connection with the intricacies of the environment, no detail is ever missed, none, whether it be the numbers of beluga in the Ungava Bay, the size of caribou herds on la rivière aux Feuilles, or contamination of the waters of the north.
Unfortunately, traditional northern cultures are in peril. Environmental degradation is endangering the flora, fauna and waters in northern territories. The loss of biodiversity and water, largely due to development, is leading to the gradual decline of traditional land ethics that harmonize indigenous use of the land with conservation of the natural world. When practices of traditional land management stop, the ceremonies stop, as well as language and, as a result, the encoded ecological knowledge that comes with it. It is for this reason that the Cree negotiated the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and la Paix des Braves: to ensure recognition of and respect for land-based knowledge and inherent indigenous rights.
Every year for two weeks in the spring, the Cree communities enjoy what is called the “goose break”. At this time, schools are closed and collective agreements protect the right of workers to take the time off. Everyone in the community goes out to the bush to hunt geese, sleep in camps, tell stories and teach children land-based skills. This is a culturally appropriate and traditional food system and the government needs to learn from the communities how best to support these activities.
When I travel to Nunavik, goose break is so famous that the Inuit ask me how they can have a beluga break. I support the development of a sustainable northern plan that is based on the solutions and knowledge of the communities themselves.
The Conservatives abolished the food mail program without consulting those mainly concerned. They eliminated the subsidy for non-food products, such as diapers and household products. Their decision had a major financial impact on the communities. Last fall, the city of Val-d'Or pointed out the vital role that Canada Post plays in its community. Any change to the program must include making Val-d'Or the hub for the north once again.
People are hungry in the north. We must respond to the call of northerners.