Does defunding the police sound radical? Some cities have already taken the first steps

Small examples from around the country show how cities are moving money from police budgets to investing in communities.

[Photo: csfotoimages/iStock]

Nationwide, we spend more than $100 billion on policing a year, a statement of budgetary priorities that has come under renewed scrutiny after George Floyd’s death and protests against police brutality across the country. Calls to “defund the police” are gaining traction, but the idea itself is not new. Though it has usually only happened in small doses, some communities have already been chipping away at their outsized police budgets for years, investing that money back into the community rather than into armed cops.

Last year, Durham, North Carolina, officials denied the police department’s request for extra funding to hire new officers. Instead, that money went toward raising the minimum wage of part-time and seasonal city workers to $15 an hour. Over the past two years, the Milwaukee youth organization Leaders Igniting Transformation have helped secure divestments in the funding of police in schools.

In one instance, they gave testimony that pushed their school board to deny a proposed $217,600 contract to put metal detectors in high schools. In another, their work led the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to divest $600,000 from police and security. Rather than pay cops to stand in schools, that money created new mental health jobs that focus on trauma-informed care. Even Minneapolis, in 2018, shifted more than $1 million away from the police department and into a program aimed at reducing domestic violence; legal services for immigrants and refugees; and an Office of Violence Prevention. And members of the city council have now said they plan to disband their police department and start over.


These are just a few examples of what’s been going on for years, says Kumar Rao, director of the Justice Transformation program at the Center for Popular Democracy. Still, this work “hasn’t gotten to the scale that we need,” he says.

To people who have never heard of the push to defund the police, it may seem radical, or like too big of a change. It’s hard to picture a future where you don’t immediately call the police for every situation, from domestic violence to a traffic stop. But “defunding” is only the first step in restructuring our cities and our justice system.

“It’s really important to always note and ground ourselves when we talk about defunding that we’re also talking about a concurrent investment and a resourcing of community,” Rao says. That investment has to be both in terms of funding community-led public safety structures that can serve as an alternative to police when it comes to responding to emergencies, and in a “deeper and more deliberate investment” in communities that have long been under-resourced. Black and brown communities face barriers to medical care and affordable housing and education that white communities often don’t—a direct consequence of the choices local officials make about where city money is spent.

“We talk a lot about this in our country, that we don’t invest in communities of color, we don’t invest in black communities. But actually we do, it’s just in criminalization,” Rao says. “We spend close to $200 billion annually on policing and incarceration in this country, and the vast bulk of that is at the local level. That comes with obvious trade-offs. Those are choices elected officials have been making for a long time: to resource these punitive systems, and as a result not invest in the long-term health and well-being of communities.”

There’s also a difference between defunding the police and just restructuring the police. After videos circulated of police arresting and pepper spraying protestors across the country, elected officials and media outlets pointed to Camden, New Jersey—where cops marched peacefully alongside protestors—as an example of where the police department has successfully been rebuilt. But Rao is hesitant to compare Camden and Minneapolis, where city council members recently pledged to dismantle the police department or to use the former as a blueprint for the latter.

“In Camden, they did disband the police department [and] then rebuilt a kinder, gentler version of a police department—but they also increased the power of the sheriff’s department. In the last few years it’s a little bit of a mixed bag in terms of what impact it’s had,” he says. “What’s being put forward in Minneapolis is a wholesale rebuild of a public safety apparatus that can and would exist outside of our traditional concept of policing. That is a very different and unique model.” This might be unprecedented, he adds, but that doesn’t mean that this is too radical or not thought out.

Rao says the way we’ve been policing has actually undermined public health and safety. Police respond to a wide range of incidents, often for things they don’t have the skills to handle or shouldn’t be engaged with at all. If we get police out of these situations, more people, including those who avoid contact with the police now, may actually receive the help they need.

“I think you will see, and are seeing, a recognition and fairly widespread public acceptance of that reality—that police are engaged in way too many aspects of our social life,” he says. “You can easily see . . . a pathway to shrinking police budgets simply by removing policing out of these responses, whether it’s policing in schools or policing of mental health crises or policing of domestic violence or policing vendors and vendor licenses.” The framework is already there to switch over some responsibilities; in New York City, he suggests, couldn’t the Department of Transportation manage street closures for parades and food festivals instead of NYPD?

At its core, defunding the police is about investing in the creation of “thriving and strong neighborhoods” rather than investing in arrests and the criminal justice system. Communities have been doing this slowly, and now that all eyes are on the police and their share of city budgets, we could truly align around this goal, Rao says. “In the wealthiest nation in the world,” he says, “it’s clear that we need to make an intervention around how we use our shared public resources for the betterment of all communities—particularly black communities, given our troubled and horrific history.”


Confederate Symbols Are Pollution

People gather around the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, on June 4, 2020, amid continued protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Photo: Getty

Nearly 800 monuments celebrating the Confederacy stand in public spaces across the U.S. today. A growing number of these racist monuments are being covered in trash bagsspray painted, and beheaded as protests against police violence expand. Others have been toppled or removed altogether.

It’s not only a meaningful step in addressing the country’s deep-rooted racism. It’s also a step toward creating more inclusive and safe spaces outdoors. For some residents, the bench outside their library or courthouse may be their most immediate access to the outdoors. For others, a national park or trail might be a place of solace and recreation. However, when a statue upholding white supremacy is towering over them or a mountain peak is named after a Confederate leader, those places become less welcoming to descendants of enslaved people. They’re textbook examples of pollution, which Merriam-Webster defines as “substances that make land, water, air, etc., dirty and not safe or suitable to use.”

That’s why their removal holds great power. It’s something we should all celebrate. These removals are an important step to ensure Black people enjoy public spaces in a way others may take for granted, but they’re only the first step in a process to create more equity outdoors—and everywhere, really—that will require much more time and attention.

“The outdoors is not this outside, far-away place that we need to travel to to get there. Nature is everywhere even if that means your windowsill or your patio or your balcony,” Yanira Castro, the communications director for Outdoor Afro, an organization that advocates bringing Black people into nature, told Earther.

When our most accessible public spaces prominently display these monuments, they signal to Black people in the U.S. “where they stand in history,” Castro said. “The monuments reflect a sense of centering whiteness as the norm and heralding people who caused harm to Black people, specifically in the woods. So when those monuments are up and are heralded as heroes, it is a signal that that space is not welcoming.”

As Castro noted, “the woods” are where white people historically lynched Black people and are also where Black people hid to escape slavery. There’s a “generational memory of trauma” associated with the outdoors, she said. Today, Black people make up only about 1 percent of visitors to public lands for a variety of reasons. The presence of Confederate memorials or names certainly doesn’t help.

The movement to remove Confederate monuments rose to national prominence in 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof massacred nine Black people in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Beyond the monuments are place names and symbols of the Confederacy found throughout public spaces. The Southern Law Poverty Center (SPLC) has identified 1,747 in total, and 57 can be found in parks and on trails.

Out West, the few that exist are largely in the woods. There’s Jeff Davis Peak in Alpine County, California, named after Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate states. Boise National Forest in Idaho is home to Robert E. Lee Creek, named after the notorious Confederate general. Efforts are underway to rename Jeff Davis Peak (a similarly named mountain in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park was renamed last year, though it remains on Google Maps), but the same can’t be said for many other harmful names and symbols that pepper the U.S. today.

“Public space should be a safe haven,” Lecia Brooks, the diversity and inclusion officer for the SPLC, told Earther. “It’s a place where people go to rest, engage in some exercise or recreation of some sort. To imagine having to go to a place that’s named after a leader of the Confederacy, especially if you’re African American… Now, people seem to really begin to understand what we mean when we say ‘institutional racism’ and ‘anti-Black racism.’ These [names and monuments] are the things that uphold these systems. These are manifestations of white supremacy.”

In comparison, few peaks, rivers, or natural areas are named in honor of Black leaders. A canyon in Utah, for example, is named for William Grandstaff, a Black rancher whose cattle roamed the lands in the 1800s. But the name until recently was problematic as hell: Negro Bill Canyon. The original name was even worse, using the n-word until the 1960s. In 2017, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names finally changed the name to Grandstaff Canyon.

There’s a long history of white people choosing the names of the wilderness areas that dot our maps. To make things worse, white people formalized place names without consulting the Indigenous people who have historically lived on these lands and already had names for them. Since at least the 1970s, there’s been an effort led by Indigenous and Black advocates to rename mountains and parks. Denali National Park—the name of which is rooted in variations of how Native Americans referred to North America’s tallest mountain—used to be named after former President William McKinley, who had never even set foot in Alaska where the mountain stands.

“Why are we naming this sacred largest mountain in the entire United States after a random white guy from Washington, D.C.? Why don’t we call it what the Native people called it: Mount Denali?” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told Earther, characterizing the argument for scrapping the McKinley name. “So that changing of that name was a real direct confrontation with the racism, which is literally inscribed in the geography of our nation.”

Removing names and statues is only the first step to addressing the racism that persists in the U.S., and making the outdoors a place where everyone can feel comfortable. The work goes a lot deeper for environmental and conservation groups that are just beginning their journey into addressing systemic racism. Many organizations have struggled with diversity internally, as well as speaking out about these issues externally. That’s finally beginning to change.

“The Sierra Club remains committed to fighting racism in the outdoors— ensuring our parks are increasingly welcoming and inclusive for everyone,” Pannell wrote in a statement to Earther. “We rise in solidarity with frontline communities who are taking down these monuments to racism, and leading the ever-important work to create more just and equitable outdoor spaces for everyone.”

We saw a clear example of this inequity merely two weeks ago when a white woman in Central Park called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black birder, simply because he asked her to leash her dog (to protect wildlife, mind you). These are the types of power dynamics that often pervade outdoor public spaces and are where more work needs to be done even as monuments topple.

“Confederate monuments are just the beginning,” Elsa Mengistu, a core team organizer with Generation Green, a youth-led environmental group that is centering Black youth in its environmentalism, told Earther. “They’re a great symbolic start to begin with, but right now we’re living in a space of racial reckoning. [The work] doesn’t stop and end with one facet of racism because racism is part of every single system, every singleinstitution that you can think of.”

That includes our public lands and who gets to enjoy them.

Yessenia Funes, Senior staff writer, Earther

Jagmeet Singh ‘Appalled’ Extendicare Planning $10M Payout Amid COVID-19 Crisis

The company partly credited revenues to government funding

SEAN KILPATRICK/CANADIAN PRESS NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on June 10, 2020.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is “appalled” a for-profit long-term care company has committed to pay $10.7 million in dividends to shareholders so far this year, while it spent only $300,000 of its own money on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Extendicare is a Markham, Ont.-based company that owns 69 long-term care and retirement homes in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and provides contract services to 53 other Canadian long-term care homes.

Extendicare made $1.13 billion in revenue in 2019 and is on track to make more this year, even as the novel coronavirus devastates some of its homes.

The company’s revenue for the first quarter of 2020 was up $6.1 million over the same quarter last year for a total of $268.8 million, according to a press release last month. Extendicare attributed the increase, in part, to government funding provided to help with COVID-19 outbreaks.

This company didn’t just earn profit, but had enough profit where they gave dividends of $10 million.Jagmeet Singh

“It’s exactly why for-profit has no place in long-term care homes… in the same period of time … this company didn’t just earn profit, but had enough profit where they gave dividends of $10 million,” Singh told HuffPost Canada Wednesday. “That’s wrong.”

The NDP leader called it a “stark and compelling” example for why the for-profit model is flawed in senior care.

The chair of Extendicare’s board Alan Torrie told investors the company has no plans to cut dividends at its annual general meeting May 28. Audio of the speeches and discussions at the meeting are published publicly on the company’s website.

At least 80 people have died in Extendicare facilities due to COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

“They were able to pay back dividends to shareholders of $10 million, meaning that they’re spending that much less on their care of their residents,” Singh said. “They’re spending that much less on staffing, and equipment, and supplies during COVID-19.”

Extendicare did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Company credits government funding

At the annual general meeting, chief financial officer David Bacon said the Ontario government paid for more than half the costs the company incurred because of the pandemic.

“The expense we incurred was about $700,000 of incremental expenses of which $400,000 was covered with some of the early funding we received in Ontario,” Bacon said.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said the province sends funding to individual homes, not their parent companies, to help with “extraordinary costs” related to the COVID-19 crisis.

“This funding is intended to support increased operational costs related to screening, staffing, supplies, and equipment necessary to maintaining the health and safety of residents and staff,” Gillian Sloggett said by email. Specific costs could be related to increasing hours for part-time staff, backfilling staff who are sick and doing extra cleaning.

Sloggett said extra funding was sent to Extendicare Guildwood in Scarborough, Ont. in March, April and May.

A union that represents about 5,000 workers at Extendicare homes said it is unacceptable for shareholders to make money off long-term care homes.

“What I heard today from Extendicare was both alarming and an affirmation of a truly ugly long-term care system,” Sharleen Stewart, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare, said in a statement after the annual general meeting.

“Residents are getting sick and dying. Workers are getting sick and dying. Enough is enough.

“Corporate dividends from companies like Extendicare, Chartwell, and Sienna, can no longer be a part of the delivery of healthcare equation.”

At Extendicare Guildwood in Scarborough, Ont., 40 people — or a quarter of the home’s 160 residents — have died after contracting COVID-19.

Audrey Da Cruz told the Toronto Star her mother died of the disease just two months after moving into Extendicare Guildwood. The only email she received from the company after her mother died was an invoice, she said.

Audrey Da Cruz poses with a picture of her late mother Theresa during a demonstration at Extendicare Guildwood in Scarborough, Ont. on May 26. 


In Alberta, an outbreak of COVID-19 at Extendicare Hillcrest has killed more people than any other care home outbreak in the province. Twenty people had died there as of Monday.

As of Wednesday, 7,900 deaths have been linked to the disease. Its impact has disproportionately affected older Canadians.

Residents in long-term care and seniors’ homes make up 18 per cent of COVID-19 cases, but residents in these homes account for 82 per cent of deaths, according to Public Health Agency of Canada data released last week.

Some care home employees have refused to work in unsafe conditions, creating a staffing shortage in some facilities. The Toronto Star reported last month that COVID-19-related health outcomes have been worse in privately operated long-term care homes than in public facilities.

The situation in some homes got so bad the military had to be brought in to certain facilities. Soldiers documented their observations in a May report that shocked the prime minister and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Inadequate training and shortages of personal protective equipment was a common theme that fuelled bad conditions inside the long-term care homes, according to the 15-page report.

Soldiers found shortages of linens; incidents of hypodermic needles being inadequately sterilized and reused; residents being left to sit in soiled diapers; patients’ feeding tubes being neglected for so long that the tubes had become “foul and coagulated.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford fights back tears in Toronto on May 26, 2020 as he discusses a disturbing report from the Canadian military about five long-term care homes. Family members of residents at Orchard Villa had been trying to warn Ford about the conditions for weeks.


“It was hard to get through. It was the worst report, the most heart-wrenching report I have ever read in my entire life,” Ford told reporters last month.

One of the homes in the report, Orchard Villa in Pickering, Ont., is owned by Southbridge Care Homes, but managed by Extendicare.

It is the hardest-hit facility in Ontario with 79 deaths linked to COVID-19.

Soldiers said they found that staff at the home did not follow infection control practices, the building was infested with cockroaches and that they saw one patient choke to death after being fed lying down.

Cathy Parkes told HuffPost that an Orchard Villa staff member refused to give her 86-year-old father oxygen or transfer him to hospital on April 14. He died the next day — but she says she didn’t find out he had tested positive for COVID-19 until three weeks later.

Cathy Parkes poses with her father Paul Parkes in an undated photo. Paul died with COVID-19 at Orchard Villa long-term care home in Pickering, Ont.


Orchard Villa’s executive director Jason Gay said he couldn’t answer most of HuffPost’s questions about Paul Parkes for privacy reasons but said the home is very sorry for his daughter’s loss.

Singh told HuffPost there are “lots of ways” the federal government can intervene. Getting provinces and territories together to talk about not renewing licences for long-term care homes is one option, the NDP leader said. The Canada Health Act (CHA) sets the conditions that provinces and territories must satisfy for federal funding. Singh suggested the values in the CHA could be extended to long-term care as an added layer of accountability to be requisite for provincial and territorial health-care transfers.

The NDP leader wants to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau call for the removal of profit from long-term care. It would “go a long way” in sending a message of leadership, Singh said.

Minister says feds powerless to improve conditions at pension board-owned care homes 

A HuffPost Canada investigation last month revealed coronavirus outbreaks have led to the deaths of at least 164 people in Revera Inc.-owned care homes, another for-profit care company.

The company brands itself as a “leading owner, operator, developer and innovator in the senior living sector” and owns at least 500 properties in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Revera has been hit with more than 85 lawsuits as of last year.

In April, lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against Revera claiming the company failed to protect its residents from COVID-19, alleging poor sanitation practices, and inadequate safety measures to curb the transmission of the virus.

Revera is privately operated but owned by a crown corporation called PSP Investments. The corporation is tasked with investing public-sector workers’ pensions.

When Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos was pressed last month to address accusations of negligence happening inside Revera facilities, he kept his distance, explaining the company operates independently from the federal government.




Bleak post-pandemic future looms as government keeps borrowing from private banks instead of Bank of Canada

Bank of Canada building in Ottawa (Image: Brent Eades/Flickr)

Image: Brent Eades/Flickr

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Yves Giroux, recently estimated that the federal deficit incurred from funding pandemic virus relief measures — now about $260 billion — could soar as high as $900 billion by this time next year unless curbed long before then.

“Temporary measures…will have to be temporary,” he cautioned, adding that if they are maintained at the current high rate of 12 per cent of GDP (going into 2021), the country will be sliding down a dangerous fiscal path that would be unsustainable.

He did not explain that the main reason for such a looming fiscal catastrophe is that these billions of dollars are being borrowed from the private banks at relatively high interest rates.

A similar steep rise in federal government spending occurred after the end of the Second World War. That’s when several huge construction projects were undertaken, including the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Trans-Canada Highway, and the construction of modern airports and seaports. Major social programs were also provided or improved at that time.

If such a massive and costly expansion of services and infrastructure were to be launched today, our federal government would incur costs running into many billions of dollars, as it now does for its pandemic relief spending. Back in the post-war period, however, the total cost of all these economic and social projects resulted in barely a minimal increase in the federal debt.

Why? Because the federal government didn’t borrow money from the private banks at that time, as it does today. All the funding came from the Bank of Canada in the form of interest-free “loans” that were “repaid” to the Bank of Canada. The government thus avoided large debts and deficits for public infrastructure projects.

The Bank of Canada Act, passed in 1934, gives our publicly owned central bank the power to make such near-zero interest loans to Canadian governments for infrastructure and healthcare expenditures.

That power, however, was sharply rescinded in 1974. That’s when the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, and a variety of corporate think-tanks persuaded most countries, including Canada, to do their borrowing from the private banks instead of their own central banks.

Since then, the capitalist economic system has spread destructive wealth inequality and environmental havoc across the planet. Canada’s federal debt incurred from private bank borrowing has skyrocketed. Over the years, we have paid nearly $2 trillion in interest to these private lenders — most of which could have been avoided if our federal government had continued to borrow from the Bank of Canada.

Theoretically, that could still happen. The provisions in the Bank of Canada Act that originally authorized the Bank to fund public projects have never been deleted from the Act. The Bank could therefore resume that beneficial function any time a federal government directed or permitted it to do so.

However, given the right-wing neoliberal stance of both our Liberal and Conservative parties, that’s highly unlikely.

The Toronto-based Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER) has been pushing for a reactivation of the Bank of Canada’s original mandate for the past 40 years or more. It even filed a lawsuit against the federal government’s refusal to do so. The Supreme Court, however, refused in 2017 even to hear the case, with government lawyers claiming Bank of Canada issues “not for the courts, but for the electorate” to decide.

While Justin Trudeau was speaking at a town hall meeting on economic matters a few months later, COMER’s Herb Wiseman shouted out: “Use the Bank of Canada!” To which Trudeau promptly responded: “That doesn’t work.”

It was a stunning remark, blithely ignoring and denying 35 years of Canadian history.

Had he the time, Wiseman could have referred Trudeau to the situation in Japan, which, unlike Canada, has continued major borrowing from its central bank. As a result, as Ellen Brown has pointed out, instead of increasing its debt and interest payments, “Japan has been cancelling its debt at the rate of $720 billion per year. How? By selling its debt to its own central bank, which returns the interest to the government. An interest-free debt owned to oneself that is rolled over from year to year is effectively void.”

It would be possible for Canada to follow Japan’s example — and immensely beneficial financially to do so, given the colossal amounts it will otherwise have to repay with interest on further private bank borrowing.

Unfortunately, unlike Japan, Canada has become a puppet of the prevailing capitalist economic system. Our current political leaders would never dare do anything that would impair big business profits. They will continue to coddle and subsidize the banks and corporations rather than improve Canadians’ standard of living.

Economists are already warning that the federal government’s voluminous pandemic-induced borrowing amounts will eventually have to be repaid. This portends a bleak future for most Canadians, since it entails the imposition on them of higher taxes and substantial cuts in public services. That will ensure the private banks keep hogging the lion’s share of a dwindling national income.

It’s a painful price that all but the rich will have to pay for our government’s self-imposed decision to keep borrowing from the private banks instead of the “People’s Bank.”


Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Pandemic shows power of cooperatives as vehicles for economic development in Black communities

Sherri Barnes (left) and Kwamena Mensa harvest fresh vegetables from the high tunnel at D-Town Farm in 2014. (Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture/D-Town Farm/Flickr)

Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture/D-Town Farm/Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic reveals the potential of cooperatives as vehicles for economic development in Black communities.

In the “sharing economy,” exemplified by companies like Uber and Airbnb, just about anything can be shared — except the profits. The profits go the owners and shareholders as they did long before run-of-the-mill capitalism was upset by “disruptive” capitalism.

However, in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that traditional capitalist companies, where a few owners, or many faceless shareholders, share the profits, risks and decisions, have not fared as well as those based on a very different model: cooperatives.

In a May 8 Truthout article, “Pandemic Crash Shows Worker Co-ops Are More Resilient Than Traditional Business,” TESA Collective member Brian Van Slyke, gives examples of how, and reasons why, some American coops are weathering COVID better than their traditional counterparts.

Slyke quotes Esteban Kelly, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, of which the TESA Collective is a member: “Traditional firms, when times are good, they take that surplus, they distribute it to the investors or maybe pay off debt, but they don’t necessarily do a lot of bonus pay for rank-and-file or increase wages …When times are bad, they panic…They’re slashing jobs and benefits…”

Kelly says things are different with coops:

“When worker-owned businesses are doing well, they share the benefits among worker-owners. This is most commonly achieved by increasing wages, expanding benefits, distributing dividends to the employees (instead of absentee stockowners) and reinvesting in their communities. But when business is tough, a worker cooperative equitably shares the burden. Instead of mass layoffs, the workers, who are the equal owners, strive to find collective solutions. Worker-owners might vote to take voluntary pay cuts so no one person loses their job, and worker committees might try to find new markets the cooperative can expand into.”

Slyke gives several examples of U.S. coops doing just this in response to the pandemic.

Cooperatives aren’t a new idea, including among African Americans.

Long before Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 with its fourth principle of cooperative economics, Ujamaa, Ella Baker and George Schuyler launched the Young Negroes Cooperative League (YNCL) in Pittsburgh in 1930 (Baker would go on to form the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee with Martin Luther King).

As Barbara Ransby explains in her book, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement — A Radical Democratic Vision, the idea was to form “black consumer cooperatives as a strategy to combat the economic devastation being wreaked by the depression and to educate black people about socialism.” This, at a time when Blacks in the southern U.S. were still struggling under the crushing poverty of one of the many systems that replaced slavery: sharecropping.

According to the PBS article, “Slavery by Another Name“:

“After the Civil War, former slaves sought jobs, and planters sought laborers. The absence of cash or an independent credit system led to the creation of sharecropping. Sharecropping is a system where the landlord/planter allows a tenant to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop. This encouraged tenants to work to produce the biggest harvest that they could, and ensured they would remain tied to the land and unlikely to leave for other opportunities. In the South, after the Civil War, many black families rented land from white owners and raised cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and rice. In many cases, the landlords or nearby merchants would lease equipment to the renters, and offer seed, fertilizer, food, and other items on credit until the harvest season … High interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unscrupulous landlords and merchants often kept tenant farm families severely indebted. Laws favoring landowners made it difficult or even illegal for sharecroppers to sell their crops to others besides their landlord, or prevented sharecroppers from moving if they were indebted to their landlord. Approximately two-thirds of all sharecroppers were white, and one third were black.”

Although sharecropping hadn’t done great things for Black folks, sharing had. Ransby explains:

“Cooperation, the sharing of resources, and a strong community spirit were fundamental values among African Americans. Ella Baker’s extended family was part of a larger network of black farmers in Warren County, North Carolina, who emphasized self-help and mutual aid as strategies for survival and the betterment of the race. The cooperative ethos that permeated Baker’s childhood was deeply implicated in prevailing notions of family and community; groups of individuals banding together around shared interests and promoting a sense of reciprocal obligation, not of individualism and competition. For example, African American farmers exchanged goods, services, and other resources among themselves. Expensive farm equipment was purchased collectively or used communally.”

Despite its promise, the YNLC only lasted about five years and “eventually collapsed under the weight of financial obligations” according to Ransby. She says Schuyler’s biographer, Michael Peplow, also attributed the YNCL’s failure partially to the fact that, “Schuyler’s inflammatory remarks about the black church and the black middle class had made him too many enemies.” For example, Schuyler had emphasized that, “…young [YNCL] recruits had to be militants, pioneers, unswerved by the defeatist propaganda of the oldsters, and the religious hokum of our generally parasitic clergy.”

So are there any signs of a cooperative resurgence among Black folks today? Yep.

After years of teaching and serving as a principal in Detroit schools, helping lead the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and starting D-Town Farm on the city’s west side, Malik Yakini and DBCFSN are planning a 34,000-square-foot food co-op, event space, and commercial kitchens in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. The Detroit People’s Food Coop could serve as a proof-of-concept for the ability of co-ops to build wealth, create food security and drive investment in underserved communities.

Events in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd have many people comparing Canada with the U.S and saying we’re glad “we’re not like them.” Modeling initiatives like the Detroit People’s Food Coop would be a good place to make an exception to that.


Robin Browne is an African-Canadian communications professional and the co-lead of the 613-819 Black Hub, living in Ottawa. This article originally appeared on his blog The “True” North, on May 12, 2020.

Centring Black, Indigenous, women of colour in a post-pandemic recovery

Women drummers at a KAIROS blanket exercise in Ottawa, 2017. Image: Extremeline Productions

Image: Extremeline Productions

It was a year ago, on June 3, when Canada received the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which delivered 231 individual calls for justice to governments, institutions and Canadians, based on testimony from thousands of families, survivors and Knowledge Keepers.

The federal government anticipated delivering its national action plan in response to the report this month, but that unveiling has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 priorities.

As if the disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women are not urgent.

As if COVID-19 does not highlight the pressing need for a national action plan to address the impacts of systemic racism — an offspring of colonization — that has marginalized Black, Indigenous, people of colour — particularly women and 2SLGBTQQIA people — for hundreds of years.

This racism and its ensuing inequities are manifested not only in the high ratio of deaths and disappearances among Black, Indigenous, women of colour and 2SLGBTQQIA people, but in their health and well-being too.

One can only hope that the federal government’s delay in delivering its response to the MMIWG report is due to a recalibration effort that will infuse it into its pandemic recovery strategy.

Afro-Indigenous, Indigenous women, women of colour, and 2SLGBTQQIA people have struggled far too long for the bare basics such as securing a stable income, finding affordable housing, eating well, leaving abusive homes, receiving adequate support and resources for their children, and not losing their children to government agencies.

Ideas for a pandemic recovery resemble pre-pandemic plans to help Indigenous women and other marginalized communities: universal basic income, permanent remote work options, food to eat, resources to pay bills, and the ability to choose to educate children on the land and to live without violence or fear.

I can only hope the government is fusing its MMIWG and recovery plans because COVID-19 has applied tremendous pressure on those already at risk — whether in trying to make ends meet or defending body and land from attack.

Since March, women, including land and water defenders, have been under increased attack in Canada and the Global South. For them, home is far from a place of refuge. It is ground zero for assault and murder — whether at the hands of an intimate partner or those who wish to silence them.

I want to hope the federal government has our back, but its actions and those of the RCMP leave considerable room for doubt.

In late April, for example, four men used vehicles to attack the Tiny House Warriors’ encampment area. Despite photos of two of the attackers on social media the RCMP have made no arrests.

Meanwhile, at a time when the federal government is opening its coffers to help people during the pandemic, ’60s Scoop survivors — those Indigenous peoples removed from their families as children — wondered why the pandemic delayed their settlement payments. Finally, on June 1, the government approved interim payments of $21,000 to those eligible.

While deeply frustrated, Indigenous women and communities are far from victims. Worldwide they have increasingly taken up space, a slow and overdue move towards restoring what once was. Whether at the grassroots level, on social media, or in communities, Black Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit and Métis women are on the frontlines advocating for healthy environments and communities, bridging gaps of education, providing community support, and leading and earning in business, fashion, health and wellness.

This month, KAIROS is spotlighting some of these women who are working to make change in Canada, including women land defenders who will come together to launch the Canadian phase of an online portal, Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water (MERE Hub), designed to empower them through resource and knowledge sharing.

Their voices, and those of other Indigenous women and marginalized communities during the post-pandemic recovery, are imperative. We cannot move towards strong, safe and resilient societies, and true reconciliation, if we continuously and systematically undervalue Black, Indigenous, women, 2SLGBTQQIA people of colour, and other racialized communities, and deny them a seat at the table.

When governments stop endangering Indigenous women, children and others by ending investments and actions that oppose their direct interests and wellbeing, when they comply with the calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the MMIWG report, when the federal government finally fulfills its promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it will finally set in motion the cumulative, radical action we all wish to see.


Chrystal Waban is the Indigenous rights coordinator at KAIROS Canada and a passionate Omàmiwininì Seedkeeper at Wananoshka Mashkiki and founder of Blackbird Medicines.

Defund the police, not just to end police violence, but to end violence itself

We can only diminish violence in our communities by transforming the conditions that lead to violence

Photo: Taymaz Valley

This moment of protest against the police’s anti-Black violence is undeniably a historic one. In response, Montreal’s mayor and police chief have been scrambling for new answers to an old question: how do we make the police less racist? This flawed question can only lead to more failed reforms, like body cams, bias training, and diversity hiring. Meanwhile, public support for a necessary demand that offers real change has been increasing: defund the police and redirect public funding to resources that actually promote safety for everyone.

Decades of research have shown that the criminal punishment system does not prevent crime — it merely compounds harm.

Why not reform? The reason reforms do not work is police violence is not an aberration or the work of “bad apples.” Protecting and serving white people and white property under capitalism requires violence. What do we think is accomplished when a system devalues, harasses, cages, assaults, and prematurely ends the lives of Black and Indigenous people?

Decades of research have shown that the criminal punishment system does not prevent crime — it merely compounds harm. The myth that the police exist to protect those among us who are vulnerable is refuted by the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women whose families still await answers and justice. Moreover, women are one of the fastest-growing populations in the federal prison system in Canada. And Indigenous women now account for over 40 per cent of federal prisoners in women’s prisons. In youth detention centres in the prairie provinces, Indigenous girls represent over 90 per cent of detainees. It is clear the system is inherently racist.

In addition to being overrepresented in Canadian prisons, Indigenous and Black women frequently face violence from the police. On June 4, in Edmunston, New Brunswick, just as protests denouncing police killings stirred the world, police killed Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation during a “wellness check.” Grieving families, like that of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Indigenous-Black Canadian woman who died at the hands of the police in Toronto in May, as well as countless others, demand justice.

When we call for the defunding of the police, our goal is to invest in the potential for our communities to be whole, to be vibrant, to be alive.

But police interventions don’t have to be deadly to be violent. When laws disproportionately target Black and Indigenous communities, they reveal the underlying function of policing. For instance, the decades spent arresting and locking up Black people for possession and distribution of marijuana showcase how laws are used to target rather than protect. Today, with legalization, access to government-run cannabis distribution centres is considered an “essential service.” Yet, we continue to see the law used to police people who are doing everyday activities, such as cashing a cheque, experiencing a mental health crisis, or being at home.

Defunding the police would reduce violence by interrupting a cycle of terror and precarity that is harmful and deadly. This shift would allow us to craft effective responses to harm that genuinely centre safety and justice for all.

We can only diminish violence in our communities by transforming the conditions that lead to violence. Imagine reallocating the $665-million annual budget that the City of Montreal spends on policing to fund measures that ensure people have access to safe housing, living wages, mental health care, education and food security. Many life-affirming programs and services for Black and Indigenous people already exist, but they are kept chronically underfunded and underresourced. By redirecting police funds to those programs we could meet the basic needs of our communities and create more spaces and resources for people to process and heal trauma in ways that could dramatically change the fabric of our society.

When we call for the defunding of the police, our goal is to invest in the potential for our communities to be whole, to be vibrant, to be alive. Who is ready for that? By calling the police, by supporting government initiatives to increase policing and police powers, and by reverting to arguments about upholding the law, white people sustain the status quo. This contract white people sign every day benefits them and upholds anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. It also reveals a failure of the imagination. For centuries, Indigenous and Black people have been ready to lead our communities to a place where we might see what lies on the other side of white supremacy. Real change will not be easy, but one of the first steps can be initiated today: divesting our tax dollars from the police and infusing them into life-affirming efforts in Indigenous and Black communities.


Dr. Nathalie Batraville is a scholar and educator who works as an assistant professor at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. Her research and teaching aim to highlight and generate frameworks for Black liberation, especially for Black trans and cisgender women, and Black queer and nonbinary people.


Anti-Blackness is a public health crisis. It deserves more than lip service

It is built into systems and structures that Black people must navigate daily. It is inescapable.

A few years ago a friend and I attended an event honouring Andrew Loku, a Black man killed by Toronto police. He was one of many Black people killed by the police during a period we bleakly called the summer of death.

We were young, but we already knew what it was to grieve Black people lost in encounters with the police. We knew what it felt like to try and wrap our tongues around language that never fully captured the gravity of state-sanctioned violence that Black people endure and don’t always survive. We watched a familiar dynamic play out as media crews held cameras up to the faces of people gathered and asked them to talk about Mr. Loku’s death. They asked about the violence of his death but failed to ask about systems that threaten Black life every day.

We live in a world that consumes Black pain but refuses to take a hard look at policies, systems and structures that produce anti-Blackness.

“The weather is the total climate; and that climate is anti-Black,” writes Christina Sharpe in 2016’s In the Wake, describing how anti-Blackness is built into systems and structures that Black people must navigate daily. It is inescapable. Every day, Black people navigate survival in a system that’s built our destruction into its foundations.

Anti-Blackness is neither abstract nor immaterial. Its effects are tangible and traceable in real life.

Anti-Blackness takes many forms. It is the mutating thing that refuses to be named, and yet it creates the conditions that make Black families more likely to experience poverty and face barriers in entering the formal employment sector or higher education. It is the thing that makes healthcare inaccessible, which means Black women face higher maternal mortality rates and are more likely to receive delayed cancer diagnoses compared to their counterparts. It’s what leads to Black trans and non-binary people experiencing higher rates of violence and harm. It is in the systems that uphold overcriminalization of Black communities. It is what leads to higher proportions of fatal encounters with police. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Blackness is also what has led to disproportionate harms to Black people and communities.

Black people everywhere will tell you, anti-Blackness is neither abstract nor immaterial. Its effects are tangible and traceable in real life. Yet, so often, our lives and the ways we die are presented devoid of context, actions that ultimately hide or make invisible the harms of anti-Blackness. Nowhere is this clearer than in telling the stories of Leonard Rodriquez and Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, both of whom recently died in Ontario.

Mr. Rodriquez was a personal support worker who died of COVID-19 in early May. Personal support workers are among the healthcare workers most likely to contract COVID-19, yet interventions specifically addressing the risks they face have been slow in coming. It is not lost on many that this sector is also largely dominated by Black and racialized people, many of them migrants.

Regis’s death is not the exception, and framing it as such obscures the ways that policing harms Black people.

Dorothy Rodriquez says that two days before her husband died, he was having trouble breathing and was disoriented and confused. She took him to the hospital. Despite his deteriorating condition, a few hours later he was sent home, where he later died. Mr. Rodriquez’s family continues to ask why he did not have adequate protective equipment at work and why he was sent home from the hospital. For many, it is impossible to separate his death from reports of Black people turned away from healthcare or offered inadequate care due to racial bias.

Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, died in the presence of police called to provide a wellness check. She joins a long list of Black and Indigenous people who have died in similar circumstances. In the last two months alone, police wellness checks have ended fatally for three Black people in Ontario. Korchinski-Paquet’s death is still under investigation; however, we can’t tell the story of her death without recognizing that encounters with police are more likely to end fatally for Black and Indigenous people. Regis’s death is not the exception, and framing it as such obscures the ways that policing harms Black people.

A recognition of the harms of anti-Blackness has recently prompted the City of Toronto’s board of health to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis. Toronto’s move affirms what Black communities know well: Anti-Blackness is hazardous and harmful to Black life. It impacts the health and well-being of Black people.

Making our lives better will require more than lip service. It will take a commitment to addressing systemic anti-Blackness and pulling apart the infrastructure that holds it in place.


Sané Dube works in health policy. She is based in Toronto.


B.C. mine proposed in critical caribou habitat shows how endangered species ‘fall through the cracks’

If the newly proposed Sukunka coal mine follows the same trajectory as nearly every project reviewed under the province’s environmental assessment process, it will be approved even if it is found to have harmful effects on caribou

B.C. is considering a proposal for a new coal mine, planned in the heart of critical habitat for the endangered Quintette caribou herd in the province’s Peace region.

The population of the Quintette herd, which roams the mountains near Tumbler Ridge where the Sukunka coal mine would be built, dropped from an estimated 173 to 74 animals between 2008 and 2018.

In a map submitted to the province by the project’s proponent Glencore, coloured dots indicate how the Quintette herd utilizes the mountain range year round, roaming areas that will be impacted by multiple open pits, roads, a tailings pond and other mining facilities — should the project go ahead.

Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations said it’s frustrating to see a new mine proposed in a region of B.C. where extraordinary measures are being taken to bring caribou back from the brink, including the nation’s costly maternity penning project for the endangered Klinse-Za herd that includes 24-hour armed security for pregnant cows and calves.

Sukunka coal mine caribou habitat

The open pits of Glencore’s Sukunka coal mine project shown in relation to caribou summer and wintering grounds in northeast B.C. The coloured dots and triangles show the location of caribou based on radio collar telemetry data. Map: Stantec

“For us it’s clear cut that the coal mine should not be going forward because you can’t mitigate the effects on the caribou in any way,” Willson says. “That project should be dead.”

But Willson says he has little confidence that the government will stand in the project’s way.

“When you look at the track record of how many projects have been approved that should not have been approved, B.C. does not have a good track record,” he says. “And Canada does not have a good track record.”

Mine will impact caribou herd in new protected area

The mine is located within the boundary of areas newly protected under a 30-year agreement between the provincial and federal governments and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.

The agreement, announced in February, placed interim protections on 550,000 hectares in the mountainous area west of Hudson’s Hope and includes plans for a new 206,000-hectare provincial park.

The new protected areas were designed to bring six struggling caribou herds, including the Quintette, back from the brink in the Peace region, the epicentre of much of B.C.’s oil and gas and fracking development, forestry, hydro operations and mining.

At an announcement for the new agreement that would see members of the West Moberly and Saulteau act as land guardians to protect species, federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson said “we need to do things differently” to ensure development is sustainable.

“This agreement is a model for caribou recovery efforts across this country,” he said at the time.

Yet certain zones within the protected areas include special permissions for mining and allow for ongoing development in endangered caribou habitat.

“You can see pretty clearly how some of the moratorium areas were essentially drawn around projects like Sukunka,” says Tim Burkhart, a program manager at the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.


Turning Food into a Weapon in the Battle against Colonialism

Meet the people working to make Indigenous food security a key element in combating racism.


Students at Hazelton Secondary School (in a photo taken before social distancing) sort herbs, leaves and cottonwood bud as they learn to make salve ‘good for eczema, psoriasis, mosquito bites, sore muscles and inflammation’ under the guidance of teacher Virginia Morgan. Photo supplied.

Even before the pandemic highlighted broad issues of food insecurity, Indigenous people across Canada were working on ways to restore food sovereignty and traditional practices.

And even before the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, they had called out the racism inherent in our current food supply system.

Battling colonialism can start with the food we eat.

Dawn Morrison, the founder, chair and co-ordinator of the Food Systems Networking Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty said she hopes the pandemic will lead more people to question the way we gather and grow our food.

“Now with the economic fallout of COVID and the climate crisis, we’re really needing to look at some innovative solutions and bring the oldest living memory of what it means to live sustainably on the land and bring that into this new present-day reality,” said Morrison, a member of the Secwepemc Nation and horticulturalist who has been working with Elders and traditional hunters, fishers and harvesters for 20 years.

Morrison describes Indigenous food sovereignty as “the ability of Indigenous peoples to respond to our own needs for food, for adequate amounts of healthy food, the way we have for thousands of years.”

Achieving it calls for broad changes, she says. “We have to actually be participating on a day-to-day basis in Indigenous food-related activities such as hunting, fishing, farming, gathering, cooking, sharing and trading.”

Indigenous food sovereignty is also about self-determination, Morrison says.

“We want to be free from the corporate control of the global food system, we want to be free from colonial policies that have disappeared us, and we do self-determination in the web of relationships within our tribal networks or intertribal networks.”

And it’s about overthrowing colonialism, she says, eliminating the policies and governance issues that block Indigenous people from obtaining for their own way.

“Food sovereignty is really important to address the underlying needs or reasons why people don’t have enough food in the first place,” she says.

A focus on local communities

Tabitha Robin is a Swampy Cree researcher, writer and food activist at the University of Manitoba who’s been studying and practicing Indigenous food sovereignty for about a decade.

She says it’s crucial for people to understand that Indigenous food sovereignty is inherently local.

“It works to meet the cultural needs and specificities of nations across Canada,” she said. “So it’s important that we recognize that food sovereignty in northern B.C. does not look the same as Southern Ontario.”

And it’s not just about growing and gathering food, adds Robin.

Robin points to Tiny House Warriors as an admirable example of campaigners for Indigenous food sovereignty because they’re willing to fight to protect their traditional territory from industrial development.

“It’s not always about protecting the food as much as it’s about protecting the land,” Robin said. “Because even if the land wasn’t directly producing food, it still contains soil and microbes, and all the little creatures that live and make that happen, the bacteria, the fungi, water and air.

“They’re protecting land for future generations. So that is inherently Indigenous food sovereignty. They’ve gone at the source of the food and they’ve gone directly to the land.”

Pushing for policy change, building alliances

Morrison says part of her work with the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty is aimed at “decolonizing food systems, work with various government agencies, various non-profit organizations and civil society, organizations, networks, researchers, and tribal and non-tribal governments.”

That takes many forms. The working group, for example, aims to “mobilize knowledge and networks to better understand the important role that Indigenous knowledge plays in wild salmon conservation and their habitat,” she said. “Because we’re seeing the numbers of wild salmon dwindle.”

They also have an Indigenous food and freedom school, which she says is their most recent project.

“It really is kind of bringing together all of the analysis and we’re developing a toolkit,” Morrison says. “We’re engaging cohorts of Indigenous experts from different areas of focus to help inform the developing of this toolkit through a living reality, through actually participating in Indigenous food sovereignty.”

The goal is also to increase understanding so people who have come together to do the work “will have the tools at the end of the project to go out and become leaders in their own rights and represent our work.”

Wilson Mendes, media director for the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty, says Indigenous food sovereignty can be a solution to racism-based food insecurity.

“I think Indigenous food sovereignty is a solution to this problem to dismantle the racial inequalities within the food systems,” he said.

Mendes, who is an Indigenous Afro-Brazilian community planner, is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, where he is focusing on Indigenous food sovereignty and urban Indigenous youth.

“I think Indigenous knowledge and traditions has the answers to all of the ecological problems, let alone the social ones,” he said.

Teacher Virginia Morgan helps tie cedar bark students have pulled from trees that will be dried and used to weave baskets and headbands and make cedar roses.

Building on the next generation

Virginia Morgan is an artist and an Indigenous culture teacher at Hazelton Secondary School of Gitxsan descent. She told The Tyee she remembers going harvesting on Cormorant Island off Vancouver Island’s east coast with her family when she was a child.

A lifestyle based on Indigenous food sovereignty is all she’s ever known, she says.

“In my early years I was always around food from the land and sea,” she said. “My mom, grandmother and aunties took us out to pick salal berries, blackberries, salmon berries, huckleberries and raspberries in their season, then came the jam-making.”

Morgan didn’t have any brothers, so at the age of 13 her father took her hunting for the first time.

“We camped out in a tent, walked the mountain, sat and ate lunch by a creek, and walked back to the camp,” she said. “We hunted bear and deer.”

Morgan says she learned to garden with her late husband, Vernon Stephens, “an amazing gardener.”

She started her class by teaching beadwork, how to harvest medicines and make regalia. But after a few years she got approval from the school to build a smokehouse. As well as teaching students how to cook and jar fish, she could show them how to smoke it, too. Shortly after, the smokehouse she requested a garden, which was also approved.

“We have been growing potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, onions, garlic and beets for several years now,” she said.

Once a month they use what they grow in the garden to make soup in the classroom to feed the students. Poverty is an issue in Hazelton.

After the success of the garden, a colleague asked her what was next, and it was obvious to her — it was time to take the students out to teach them how to hunt.

“It is not just about hunting out there, we give them responsibilities,” she says. “It is their responsibility to keep their tent and gear clean and organized, they take turns washing dishes and cooking, as well as chop wood for the wood stoves, they help set up camp and take camp down.”

“When we get back to school, they also help set tents back up to dry and while out on the land they are learning about traditional protocols. We also sit around the fire each evening to check in. This is when the best stories come out.”

A couple of years ago Morgan decided to start bringing girls on the trips too.

“Because while we’re out there, we’re talking about protocols for girls and their responsibilities, being young women coming into womanhood,” she said. “We pick medicines, we gather cedar, so it’s a lot of the things that the girls would have done a long time ago with their moms and grandmas.”

Morgan estimates that 90 per cent of Hazelton Secondary School’s students are Indigenous. Her program, which she calls Back to the Land, strengthens their Indigenous identity and gives them confidence outside of the classroom, she says.

“When I’m talking to parents and they start talking about the different changes that they see in their kids and that they start even having that same open conversation at home, they’re not so afraid anymore to talk about those things that are important to them.”

Teacher Virginia Morgan takes Hazelton students out to hunt and teaches them to process the meat.

The changes extend into families.

“A few of the boys were invited by their father or grandfather to go out hunting following our trips,” Morgan says. “They saw that the boys were excited about being out on the land.”

And into other areas of the students’ lives.

“One of the boys was very shy, to the point of not speaking much in any of his classes. We had taken him on several of our trips. He became more confident in himself,” she says. “At school, in the office area, he would stop and chat with the secretaries. He began to joke more. So it has made a difference in the way they carry themselves at school, home, and in the communities.”

“They come back with a different kind of pride, a different kind of outlook and it doesn’t happen just the once, that happens over time,” Morgan says. “When we take students out, we usually take them five or six different times because we feel like what we’re doing is mentoring them as well, it’s not just taking them out hunting once.”

Morgan says she does this because it’s her whole life and has always been the way she lives.

“I know that, especially in this area where there aren’t a lot of jobs, that it could fill a really big void. As far as, you know, not just the young people but just the community coming together and being able to go out on the land and harvest and it’s all year round. It’s not just the hunting, it’s the gardening, medicine gathering. It’s everything.”

Morgan says another important aspect of her class is the focus on nutrition.

“We kind of talk about the overall plants, the medicines, what we gather from the garden, how to cook them so… we’re not taking nutrition out of the vegetables, as well as the meat,” she said. “The foods that we eat today are so processed.”

Morgan has been working on her program for more than 20 years and says she plans to retire soon — but not before she mentors other teachers at the school.

“I don’t want to leave the school and have everything kind of fall apart,” she says.

Food security and the capitalist economy

Morrison says Morgan’s program is beneficial and education is an important tool in bringing broader change to Indigenous people’s lives.

“One of the reasons that Indigenous families are food insecure is because parents are forced to participate in the capitalist wage economy,” she said. “Parents, when they’re working eight hours a day, they have less time to spend teaching the children the traditional knowledge, values and wisdom so schools can be helpful that way.”

But she says education isn’t the only solution and we must dismantle an inherently racist system to see real lasting change in food security.

Since COVID-19 has meant a huge loss of employment, people are in need. In March, the B.C. government announced that $3 million would be distributed to food banks and similar organizations across the province.

Morrison said food banks fill a need in the short term, “but we need that food sovereignty strategy to look at the underlying issues.”

“For Indigenous people, food banks are not an adequate strategy to address our needs and our concerns,” she said. “Especially for a lot of the northern and remote areas, and the most poverty stricken Third World conditions that many Indigenous people in Canada still live within.”

Morrison says we need to address the fact that many of these areas lack clean drinking water and the infrastructure needed to grow their own food.

That extends to housing. “We know we can’t achieve food sovereignty without adequate housing,” she says.

The University of Manitoba’s Robin hopes people will realize that food banks aren’t helpful for Indigenous communities and long-term food solutions are needed.

“Part of me hopes that if more people understood that food banks are not working for feeding most Indigenous communities that they would write to their government to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with that? And how can we talk about how we can support Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives?’”

Morrison said education and funding for food security efforts are needed, but it’s most important to dismantle the racist system in order to encourage Indigenous food sovereignty.

“What’s needed in Indigenous communities is for the governments… to actually allocate adequate amounts of funding for Indigenous peoples to plan and govern for and by ourselves, and funding earmarked for infrastructure to grow and prepare food and water,” she said.

Canadian governments are focused on agribusiness and food exports, “not food for the people,” she adds.

“We need to dismantle the system that favours that corporate consolidation of land and water and infrastructure for corporate large-scale industrial agriculture as opposed to food and infrastructure for local people,” she said.

Morrison says food insecurity is just one aspect of systemic injustice.

“The policies, the planning, the governance that has been instituted, it’s actually a racist system,” she said. “The numbers clearly show the disparity and how Indigenous peoples are over-represented in the poverty stricken, food insecure neighbourhoods.”

Morrison hopes that the murder of George Floyd and the conversation around racism it has sparked will lead to a change in the food system, which she says is also based on racism.

Robin agrees that along with funding, education and protecting the land, addressing racism is essential to really bring change to the food system.

“In order for us to have Indigenous food sovereignty we need to be able to eliminate racism in our health-care system, in our food-care system, in our justice system, in our child welfare system, every single thing is connected.”

Robin acknowledges she hasn’t seen too much change at the legislative level to bring a more sustainable, just food system. But she sees resurgence on the ground and is still hopeful.

“Within our culture, I see Indigenous youth as ruling the world,” she said. “I have a lot of admiration for this new activism that is emerging in a lot of youth.”  [Tyee]