Aquaculture community finds a N-EAT way to get fresh food

SFU pilot project aims to build on and expand traditional knowledge in First Nations communities for sustainable, nutritious, and organic food production

By Fabian Dawson

Located on Swindle Island, 220 kilometres north of Port Hardy on B.C.’s spectacular central coast, the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations community of Klemtu live in a magnificent isolation that is both rewarding as it is challenging.

To get here – the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest – you have to come by air or water navigating long fjords, deep valleys and snow-capped peaks.

“Our remoteness is a challenge but it also helps us find homemade solutions to ensure our vision for our land and resources is based on the best definition of the term sustainable,” said Isaiah Robinson, a band councillor.

When a long-operating fish packing firm, the only employer in Klemtu, abruptly shut down in 1989, the band leaders turned to salmon farming to keep the hard-hit community going.

This sustainable aquaculture operation has not only been an economic boon to the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations people of Klemtu, it created a sense of pride, self-esteem and financial independence.

Now, the indigenous people of Klemtu are leading the way with a pilot project that works with First Nations communities in British Columbia, to enhance communities’ self-reliance on sustainable, nutritious, and organic foods.

The Nutrition through Engagement and Agricultural Technologies (N-EAT), a Simon Fraser University (SFU) Pacific Water Research Centre (PWRC) project, builds on and expands local and traditional knowledge in these communities and leads to the use of best practices.

The project also seeks to ensure that these communities are resilient against impacts of climate change and other related environmental and social stresses.

“N-EAT has shown enormous success in its pilot year, having collaborated with Klemtu leadership to develop and promote nutrition through enhanced food systems,” said Kerry Gibson, director of strategic partnerships for the N-EAT program.

“Community engagement, family gardens, greenhouse production, and comprehensive planning for a sustainable healthy future have drawn attention to the N-EAT program and the team will be expanding into other like-minded communities in 2020,” she told SeaWestNews.

In Klemtu, the N-EAT team reactivated a dysfunctional greenhouse last year and built community gardens.

Master gardeners from EMBARK – a non-profit student society empowering the next generation of student sustainability leaders at Simon Fraser University – ran workshops with students and adults, to build intergenerational enthusiasm as families learned and grew together.

Robinson said the youth leadership in Klemtu has been key to steering local engagement and working in partnership with the team from SFU to achieve success. 

“By the time milk reaches us in Klemtu, it is has less than five shelf-days left…similarly, vegetables are past their prime when they arrive in this community,” said Robinson

“This project is helping us grow our own food and contributing to a healthier community,” he said.

While Klemtu and N-EAT continue to pull the pieces together necessary for economic independence, other communities are in consultation with N-EAT to secure similar support from the program.

In order to maximize the program’s impact, N-EAT engages with mid-phase development opportunities where the community has basic infrastructure at or near completion and is ready to address the complex system necessary to offer health and wellbeing to its citizens, states SFU’s Pacific Water Research Centre.

The centre estimates that more than 4 million Canadians, including 1.5 million children, struggle with food security.

“And lack of access to nutrition contributes to a plethora of other concerns…diminished activity, aggravated social deconstruction, vulnerability to illness, diminished retention.

“Through its innovative programming and collaborative model which enhances partnerships between communities, governments, corporations, academia, and NGO’s, N-EAT seeks to lead in the permanent resolution to national and international nutrition and wellness, leaving no one behind,” the Centre states.

Image – Ralph Turfus (N-EAT, funder), Andrew Wright (N-EAT, funder), Pablo Vimos (EMBARK), Kerry  Gibson (N-EAT, Partnerships), Isaiah Robinson (Incumbent Deputy Chief, Kitasoo) , Roxanne Robinson (Chief,  Kitasoo), Lama Mugabo (N-EAT,  Community Planning), Tiffany Mason (Medical Director, Kitasoo), Dr. Adeel Zafar (SFU), and Allison Giannaros (N-EAT,  Strategic Planner)