What is 'food sovereignty?'

“Food sovereignty is 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.” (La Via Campesina)

What is 'food sovereignty?'

“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.” (La Via Campesina)

Indigenous food sovereignty centres “long-standing sacred responsibilities to nurture healthy, interdependent relationships with the land, plants, and animals that provide us with our food” (Dawn Morrison)

MESC Food Sovereignty Initiative

Newo is working with the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission (MESC) to develop a pathway to supply the school kitchens with healthy, culturally appropriate, ecologically sustainable and economically sensible food. Building on the goals and achievements of the Nanâtohk Mîciwin (Universal School Foods) program — which provides two meals daily to 2,400 Maskwacis staff and students — the initiative will connect students, teachers, staff and community to food, land, ceremony, culture and language. However, as of Fall 2021, Newo is on a hiatus from the initiative due in part to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.


our approach

listening & learning
  • The Food Sovereignty Initiative will be defined by the MESC community: Elders, students, parents, teachers and staff
  • Newo is there to listen for what is being asked, and to ask the right questions
  • It is our job to bring the right voices together, so that everyone is heard
food is sacred
  • Food is central to life; it is a thread that weaves us together and to the land; it brings us together across time and generations
  • Working with food is an opportunity to connect with the four elements and with MESC’s foundational values of Îyinîw Mâmitonehicikan (Indigenous Thought), Nehiyaw Pimâtisiwin (Cree Way of Life), Nehiyawewin (Cree language), and Wâhkôhtowin (Relationships/Kinship)
embedded in community
  • Food connects us across the community: from school, to home, to work. It connects us to the field, to the forest and to the water
  • We see Food Sovereignty fostering community beyond the schools, and involving everyone including Elders, leaders, teachers, parents, students, businesses, gatherers and producers
knowing the stories
  • We believe that the stories and experiences of Maskwacisak (the people of Maskwacis), and the teachings of Elders will guide us on the right path for defining the Food Sovereignty Initiative
    We believe that knowing the history of food for nêhiyawak (Cree people) — its importance, its sacredness, its relationships and how it has been used — will help to define the future

healthy relationships

Since time beyond memory, Nêhiyawak sustained themselves through sacred relationships with the land, the water, and with the many nations who share these lands.

The buffalo — staple of the plains diet — is more than a source of food and material; they are a relative and a teacher, inspiring Nehiyaw Pimâtisiwin (Cree way of life).

The buffalo of the plains, the fish of the lakes and rivers, the fruits of the forests, and trade with allies made Nêhiyawak strong and healthy.

At the time of contact with Europeans, plains Indigenous peoples were “the tallest people in the world” and their height is attributed to the diverse and nutrient-rich diet that they enjoyed.

broken promises

The near-extinction of the buffalo, the signing of the numbered treaties, and the creation of the Indian Act forced many plains Indigenous peoples out of sacred food relationships and onto reserves in the 1870s and 80s.

In this context, many Indigenous peoples adapted successfully to farming, and combined traditional governance systems and knowledge of the land with imported tools and methods to form agricultural collectives that were competitive with settlers.

By the 1890s settler backlash had resulted in government policies that made farming nearly impossible on reserves. Some managed to continue farming on a small scale and many continued to tend bountiful gardens and to hunt and gather foods from the land.

The residential schools further widened the violent fracture from land, food, culture and language. In some of these schools Indigenous children were intentionally starved, fed western and highly processed foods, experimented upon, and punished for practicing their traditions and speaking their languages.

rekindled fire

Today in Maskwacis there are no grocery stores — only a handful of convenience stores — and Maskwacisak must travel to nearby towns to purchase diverse and healthy foods.

Much of the agricultural land of the four nations is leased and cultivated by settlers from surrounding communities. However, many Maskwacisak still tend gardens and regularly eat wild foods, including berries, wild game and wild plants.

There is a strong appetite to reconnect with traditional foods and strengthen those food relationships. 

The Nanâtohk Mîciwin program is an inspiration for schools across the country, and has emphasised the importance of healthy food for the success of students and the thriving of culture.

bright visions

Bolstered by the success of the Nanâtohk Mîciwin program, the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission is seeking to define the future of food teaching for students and staff.

Navigating the challenges of a globalized food system, climate change, economic uncertainty and historical injustices will not be easy, but Maskwacisak are resilient people, rooted in the wisdom of Elders and millenia of knowledge, and looking to the future with the eagle vision of many generations.

Be attentive to the seeds that are planted here; their fruits will feed many nations.