Reflecting on language and its impacts on Indigenous foods and nutrition


Changing colonial ways by centering Indigenous understanding and perspectives around food and food systems​​​


Language is powerful, very much connected to our identity and influences our understanding of the world. The words we use in English have limitations because they come from a dominant colonial worldview and language.

To help better understand the language that is connected to food and Indigenous perspectives, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has created the Common Language Project Report. The report consists of two documents, both intended to provide health care staff and food practitioners an opportunity to reflect and engage with the language we use around food and nutrition. Being mindful and intentional about language is essential, as much of our understandings and relationships with food are influenced by our upbringing, our educational systems, and our social and societal influences.

The core report, FNHA Common Language Project Report 2023, explores how community members view key terms such as traditional foods, medicines, nutrition and food security, recording and sharing their authentic voices and Indigenous perspectives – check out the QR codes within the Report for the audio recordings. Its companion document, Understanding Common Language, or more informally known as the iceberg toolkit, uses infographics depicting icebergs that show how words can have deeper meanings than their colonially defined terms. The iceberg toolkit also includes reflective questions to help us explore our relationships with, and our understanding of, these words.

The Common Language Project team consisted of Kathleen Yung, Specialist, Healthy Eating and Food Security at FNHA; Professional Chef Consultant Jared Qwustenuxun Williams (Quw'utsun) of Cowichan Tribes; and Fiona Devereaux (a white settler of Irish heritage), a Dietitian and Indigenous anti-racism Facilitator Consultant. The team supported the document review and conducted engagements in all five regions of British Columbia, including one central team engagement.

The report has regional and cross-regional themes, with quotes and teachings coming from Elders, Knowledge Keepers, community members and FNHA staff. Qwustenuxun and Fiona worked with the FNHA to ensure cultural safety was central to the project.

With the understanding that many people have complex relationships with food, the project team said they wanted the document and toolkit to be grounded in cultural teachings and safety. The words in the document and in the toolkit remain in community voices as much as possible. For this reason there is little to no paraphrasing.

The Common Language Project provides context as to where food and nutrition practices derive from colonial structures. By building more common understanding around the interconnectedness of food-related terms such as traditional foods, food security, nutrition and medicine, health care staff and food practitioners can gain insight into how these words could inform conversations with Indigenous communities.

Food is deeply wholistic and tied to FNHA's First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness, where the food environment, social and cultural connections, and economic wellbeing of community and society is directly connected to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of each individual person, family and community.

The FNHA will host an upcoming webinar (date to be announced later) involving Qwustenuxun and Fiona Devereaux to explore the concepts more in depth. ​

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