Last November, University of Saskatchewan student Jill George’s father saw a moose step across the back lot of the family’s acreage near Meadow Lake.
Her brother hurried after it, hopping on a quad and shooting the animal in the bush. George and her family spent an hour cutting the meat and removing the hide, before hauling it back home. They saved the hide for last, dragging its weight through the bush.
“It’s a lot of hard work to get out all the meat and prepare it properly,” she said. “I think it goes a long way.”
It would help provide for her families’ households well into the pandemic, saving money and offering a stable source of healthy food as they entered uncertain times.
As George returned to school, her family butchered the meat. The experience resonated with her.
“It’s important for me to continue learning about it. This is the first time I got to see that. So it was pretty cool,” she said. “Now that I’m in the city it’s hard to see that stuff as often.”
While none of their households were food insecure, wild food is a key resource for many northern communities during the pandemic. George noted hunters from her family’s home community of English River First Nation distributed wild meat throughout the community earlier this year.
However, those food supports may be at risk in some areas.
University of Saskatchewan Professor Priscilla Settee, who is from Cumberland House, raised concern over the impact of development and poor environmental conditions on traditional food systems. According to her, some supports that help communities may be affected.
She’s poised to research how chronic wasting disease afflicts larger animals like deer and moose around Nipawin. The disease, which affects animals’ nervous systems, is fatal.“Once that gets into the food chain, we can see what it’s done to domesticated animals in the world. And still there hasn’t been enough research on what the impact on humans will be, but you can bet it’s not going to be very good,” she said.About half of Indigenous households living on reserves face food insecurity, in addition to about 23 per cent living off reserve who also face similar circumstances, according to a 2019 national report from the Assembly of First Nations.
In April, Settee signed a report on food security in Indigenous communities from Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank. The report, noting the pandemic would worsen First Nations’ widespread food insecurity, advocated for reinvigorated Indigenous food systems that have proven resilient during the pandemic.
Wild food is a key part of how George understands her culture, while providing a healthy resource during COVID-19. As her family starts to tan the hide from the moose shot last fall, she feels blessed to learn from the process, she said.
“This is how I identify with my culture — hunting and fishing.”