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Food is inextricably linked to Land

On food sovereignty, land acknowledgment, and ownership

I’d never heard or seen land acknowledgments in practice till last September, on the first day of class in my post-grad Diploma program in Museum and Cultural Management. I knew a bit about the Indigenous peoples in Canada and have learnt more in the year that I’ve lived here in Mississauga.

Land acknowledgements have been practiced for centuries and were developed to respect, honour and pay homage to the land and its peoples. Typically, they are shared - read out - at the start of events and public meetings and vary depending on which Indigenous peoples were owners of that part of the country. For the region I live in, a typical Land Acknowledgment might look like this:

“We would like to begin by acknowledging the land on which we gather, and which the Region of Peel operates, is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples inhabited and cared for this land. In particular we acknowledge the territory of the Anishinabek, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Ojibway/Chippewa peoples; the land that is home to the Metis; and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who are direct descendants of the Mississaugas of the Credit.

We are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land, and by doing so, give our respect to its first inhabitants.” Source: Region of Peel

One of my earliest connections to Canada was maple syrup, the definitive Canadian sweetener - a favourite then, and one today. In writing my latest blog post, On Canada, Maple Syrup and Cabane à Sucre, I discovered that we have the Indigenous peoples in Canada to thank for the gift of Maple syrup. They harvested sap from maple trees across the ‘Maple Belt’, from Ontario to Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, processing it to form maple water, sugar, candy and more.

Gathering maple sugar the traditional Anishinaabe way

This knowledge of “sinzibuckwud” - the Algonquin name for maple syrup - which translates as “drawn from the wood” is culturally and spiritually significant. Maple season - typically from the first spring thaw in March to April - was celebrated as Maple moon or Sugar Month. Different Indigenous peoples have their own origin stories as well as knowledge systems about the best trees to tap, when to tap, when they trees had been tapped enough and other things essential to the process.

It was this knowledge that was shared with European settlers during the first European colonization. The combination of Indigenous knowledge and European distribution learned through exploitation and sale of sugar during the transatlantic slave trade resulted in commodification of Maple syrup. Much like Guyanese Demerara sugar which once upon a time was a product, of golden sugar crystals produced in the Demerara region. Today, that title refers to a type - not a place and yes, legally :(.

A history of Maple syrup, Source: Maple from Canada

Coined in 1996 by La Via Campesina, a global movement of farmers, Food Sovereignty (and its 7 pillars) is defined as “the right of Peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” The ultimate goal? Local, integrated, sustainable food futures which prioritise humanity and local needs above capitalism and commodification.

This hasn’t been the case with maple syrup for a while. Big business and economic superpowers have overcome the craft, small-batch systems of maple production challenging the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, the ownership and access to their own lands, erasure of their histories and food origins and more.

So how do we go on from here? What can we do?

Stay well x

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