Indigenous Ag Summit, Food Sovereignty Conference centre stage at Agribition

A summit focusing on Indigenous-led agricultural projects and food sovereignty took the stage at Agribition on Tuesday.

2021 marks the eighth running of the Indigenous Agriculture Summit and Food Sovereignty Conference, which is host to representatives from across Saskatchewan.

Keynote speaker Kelly J Lendsay, President and CEO of Indigenous Works, opened with an introduction to one of the main themes of the summit: change.

“The collective challenge,” he said. “Why this conference is so important, is how are we growing healthy communities? Healthy companies? And healthy foods?”

Lendsay pointed out that Indigenous communities have a long history of agricultural tradition and innovation.

“At the time of first contact, and long before Gregor [Mendel’s] experiments, the Huron in Ontario had genetically engineered 47 different varieties of corn,” he explained.

The legacy of Indigenous agriculture was a point frequently brought up during the summit’s discussions.

Even more frequently spoken about was the fact that industry leading organizations would have to be convinced to develop policies to include Indigenous perspectives and knowhow in their business dealings in order to allow Indigenous communities to thrive in the sector.

The summit also touched on including more Indigenous perspectives and knowhow into business dealings, for communities to thrive in the sector.

“We have to work with these organizations and use TRC and economic reconciliation,” said Thomas Benjoe, President and CEO of FHQ Developments. “Because those discussions are going to help foster what those policies look like and how we get them to engage more fully with us.”

Benjoe went on to say that he has great faith in the Indigenous communities currently developing relations in the sector, knowing that their perspectives come with great wisdom.

“We’ve been here for thousands of years,” he said. “We will be here for thousands of years more and it’s because of our thought process and our knowledge that we are going to continue to be able to exist.”

Chief of Cowessess First Nation, Cadmus Delorme, was also in attendance. He explained his community’s efforts in establishing its own agriculture sector by developing its own land act, unburdening itself from the restrictions of The Indian Act, and allowing the reserve to have control over its own land and to have the ability to use its assets to expand. He expects the community to thrive on a level not felt for many years.

“This is where we can’t shy away from being aggressive, on getting Indigenous people back to that level,” he said. “Where we were always supposed to be, and that is the challenge that we look at in this room and we must do.”

Delorme is confident that First Nations can become successful in agriculture if their inherent rights to expand their economies are recognized.

“Maybe one day we will fully exercise our sovereignty and sign agreements with international countries to take it right from our land to their market,” he said. “All I’m saying is that it’s unlimited with your inherent rights to economics.”

He urges everyone to remember why First Nations are disadvantaged in the agriculture sector to begin with.

“I do believe reconciliation and growth is happening but the thing is we all must understand is there was one truth, as to why we are not a part of the growth,” he said. “Let’s use that as a motivation to make sure that we are part of the growth moving forward.”

The summit will run through November 24.