Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating First Nations traditional foods

Community garden in greenhouse structure

At community gardens like this one in Cheslatta, First Nations communities are building on the knowledge and skills of Elders to ensure access to healthy food for all. Have you tried any First Nations traditional foods?
(Photo credit: Hilary McGregor, Aboriginal Health, Northern Health)

Many Elders and health providers from First Nations communities have shared their knowledge with me about traditional foods. I am repeatedly surprised by the flavour, nutritional value and health benefits of traditional foods. I tell my significant other, who is a member of the Kitselas First Nation, that his canned salmon is like “pure gold” because of how much work and care he puts into harvesting and processing the fish – not to mention how amazing it tastes!

Working as a dietitian, I have learned nutritional information about traditional foods that I didn’t know before. For example, seaweed is an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Moose is rich in protein and B vitamins. Most wild game is higher in nutrients than livestock and food products made from livestock like bologna and wieners.

My children are Nisga’a and we were fortunate to be given some eulachon this year. Eulachon are small, oil-rich fish that spawn in rivers along the west coast. They are high in vitamin A and calcium. Vitamin A helps our bodies to fight infection and keeps our eyes and skin healthy while calcium helps to keep our bones and teeth strong.

In addition to the nutritional value of the food itself, another great advantage of traditional food gathering is the health benefits from harvesting such as connecting with the land and with one’s culture and family, as well as exercise. These are important aspects of holistic health and well-being.

Gardening is another way to access fresh and nutritious food, connect with family, and be physically active. In my work, I notice more First Nations communities across the north developing community gardens and harvesting or growing traditional plants and medicines. Many of these communities are remote and have limited access to healthy store-bought foods, which is all the more reason to build on the knowledge and skills of Elders to ensure access to healthy food for all.

There is so much to learn, celebrate and sustain! For more information on traditional foods and nutrition, check out the First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority.

This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Northern Health’s A Healthier You magazine.


Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.


Aboriginal Day in Terrace: Fun for all ages

Brandon and Agnes at the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace

Brandon Grant, NH Men’s Health Coordinator, stands with two gentlemen who stopped by and received Northern BC Man Challenge t-shirts, and Agnes Snow, Regional Director of Aboriginal Health, at the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace, BC.

On June 23, I had the opportunity to participate in the National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace, along with Agnes Snow, Regional Director of Aboriginal Health. The event was in the downtown park in Terrace, where people were able to purchase food, jewelry, and art at display booths surrounding the grass and a stage featuring live entertainment from local dancers and singers happened all day.

I was manning an informational booth for the NH men’s health program, where we handed out men’s health reports and our other promotional materials, such as our Northern BC Man Challenge t-shirt and golf balls. We had a lot of folks drop by our booth to check out our materials but also to talk about their stories, and what good health meant to them. One gentleman who was visiting from an outside community stopped by and chatted about how hard it was to talk to men about their health and the small things we can all do to improve our health outcomes. This has been a common theme throughout the past year of the program – what can we do to reach men who traditionally have a hard time speaking about their health challenges? We’re hoping that as we engage with more folks like this, we will create a momentum that will make men’s health part of a broader agenda for healthier communities.

It was great to be a part of an event where people of all ages came out to enjoy the beautiful weather, food, activities, and entertainment. I’m hoping to travel to more communities soon, especially the ones where folks who stopped by our booth and requested men’s health presentations came from. And hopefully I will be back to the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace again next year!

Do you have men’s health story? Please share it with us!

Brandon Grant

About Brandon Grant

As the NH men’s health coordinator, Brandon Grant travels across the Northern Health region speaking with community members about the health issues men face and what we can do to improve men’s health. He has worked with a variety of community-based organizations, including the Nawican Friendship Centre and the Northern Family Health Society, and holds two master’s degrees, one in social work and one in public administration. To stay active, Brandon enjoys playing golf and tennis, and whenever possible, visits tropical destinations to go snorkeling.