Treena Wasonti:io Delormier: Building Bridges

Published: 3 November 2020
| Valerie MacLeod

Although Homecoming 2020 took on a different shape this year, the new virtual delivery of Masterclasses and other celebratory events gave alumni a unique opportunity to tune in to fascinating discussions on a variety of different topics, at their convenience, from the comfort of their homes.

One such class—presented by the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences—entitled “Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition, Food Security, and Well-being,” served as an introduction for many McGillians to Treena Wasonti:io Delormier, BSc(NutrSc)’93, MSc’96, Associate Professor in the School of Human Nutrition, recently named Canada Research Chair Tier II in Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Food Security, and Associate Director for the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE).  Delormier, whose research interests include nutrition and health, Indigenous and social perspectives of food, and food security, among other topics, is using her work to build respectful and mutually beneficial connections between institutions like McGill and the Indigenous communities she partners with.

A unique approach

Through her work, Delormier seeks to address the social determinants of health underlying the inequalities Indigenous peoples face, in a historical context of colonialism, and explores how these themes connect to Indigenous identity. She is outspoken about the importance of self-determination: the ability for Indigenous communities to make choices to ensure that they are able to meet social, cultural and economic needs; food sovereignty: the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced ecologically and sustainably, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems; and food security: ensuring accessibility to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

And as both an accomplished academic and a Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake, Delormier has a unique perspective, straddling the line between researcher and Indigenous community member. Her current research program—for which she was named to a Canada Research Chair (Tier II)—explores the concepts of food sovereignty and security from Indigenous perspectives. “The idea of food sovereignty comes back to this notion of having rights and governance over what you’re eating. For Indigenous peoples, this means having access to land and having access to Indigenous knowledge systems that support the kind of food that not only reinforces health but also identity,” she explains. “Understanding these concepts from an Indigenous perspective requires that we respectfully learn these ways of knowing from the community’s knowledge holders, who can tell us some of the story.”

As such, Delormier will devote the $3.5-million Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health operating grant endowed to her in 2020 to the establishment of a Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research (NEIHR) over the next five years in the province of Quebec.

Heeding the calls

On the heels of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls-to-Action, McGill sought to examine its own relationship with Indigenous peoples with the creation of the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education in 2016. A year later, the Task Force issued fifty-two calls-to-action—deemed essential to McGill’s own project of Indigenous recognition and reconciliation—outlining specific steps to better engage and collaborate with Indigenous communities, with the aim of enhancing the presence and success of First Nations students, staff and faculty at McGill.

Among the calls-to-action outlined in the Task Force’s final report, priorities include the prioritization of Indigenous studies and education and increased representation and funding of Indigenous research, which has renewed an academic interest in working with these unique and culturally rich communities, something Delormier can appreciate.

“The university is taking steps to ensure that Indigenous students not only have better access to education, but also that this education addresses Indigenous knowledge systems, and that ways of knowing include Indigenous knowledge holders as well as Indigenous faculty,” she explains. “There are also a significant number of researchers who feel encouraged to work with Indigenous communities because that’s what we’ve been called to do through the actions that the Provost’s Office has put forward.” The challenge, however, lies in ensuring that the relationships between researchers and the communities they work with are mutually beneficial. “We need to put infrastructure in place to support both researchers and communities to work together collaboratively to ensure we are doing research projects that are both meaningful for Indigenous people while also contributing to the university’s broader mission.”

A hopeful future

Although the road to reconciliation will not be easy, it’s researchers like Delormier who are drawing the blueprint for success, respectfully and meaningfully connecting with the culture while actively partnering with Indigenous communities in their research. And moving forward, there’s a lot to be hopeful about, says Delormier. “Youth in Indigenous communities are showing interest in health in food systems, in learning culture and knowledge. Language revitalization programs, cultural ceremonies and practices are now part of the way we are promoting health and health issues in the community. And Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an important first step in recognizing how history is shaping the well-being of today’s Indigenous communities. Further, it’s hopeful to see the universities and other organizations making an effort to do things better and differently, working with students who understand the aspect of social justice and research work as it relates to food systems and sustainability, and the health of our planet.”

Watch the full Homecoming 2020 Masterclass presentation: Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition, Food Security, and Well-being.

Lire en français dans l'edition octobre 2020 du bulletin éléctronique Macdonald

Read more in the October 2020 edition of the Macdonald E-newsletter

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