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  • First nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.

    First nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa. | Photo: Reuters

"It's the story across the country. People on reserves do not have access to good quality food," one researcher said.

Indigenous communities along Canada’s Atlantic coast face mounting difficulties in providing their families with nutritious food, clean water and pharmaceuticals, a new study shows.

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An intensive research project, launched almost ten years ago by the First Nations Food, Nutrition, and Environment Study, interviewed over 1,000 people from 11 communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland on their health and diet.

Researchers found that over 31 percent of households in Indigenous communities were food insecure, meaning their financial means were insufficient to meeting food requirements. An additional nine percent were severely insecure.

"The average is 30 percent, but in some communities it can be as high as 70 percent. We can not indulge community-level data, which is why we report on the regions and you only see averages," said Dr. Malek Batal, one of the project’s main researchers.

"It's the story across the country. People on reserves do not have access to good quality food," Batal said, adding that the result was a high intake of saturated fats.

The study also analyzed the “approved standard” and quality of residents, finding that although the water in the area was drinkable, it was often discolored and had a strange smell or taste. The presence of low amounts of aluminum, iron and manganese in the Atlantic Canadian region gives tap water a cloudy appearance and metallic flavor.

Batal said that although the water is safe to drink, the traces of mineral deposits indicate that there could be contamination from human activity, either sewage or a factory leak.

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“We should stress more the rights to food and that being a human right. We're sad that Canada, a rich country, still allows these high rates of food insecurity to be occurring in particular communities," Batal said, adding that extensive testing in 10 out of the 11 communities showed low amounts of pharmaceuticals such as pain medication, mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, antibiotics and diabetes medication.

The study confirmed that although traditional diets are accessible to the Indigenous communities, time, economic or industrial restrictions or simply the lack of skill often prevent access to the ample store of resources available to families.

Researchers were able to identify nearly 100 species of seafood, game, birds, plants, berries and roots which aline with traditional Indigenous meals.

"They want to have it, and they do have it on a regular basis basically, but the amounts aren't very high. The participants have said they want more traditional food," Batal said, adding that he hopes the study will bring helpful educational programs to the region and eliminate the knowledge gap in these communities.


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