Kati George-Jim carries teachings about the relational cycles of ecosystems, passed on to her by the many women in her families.
The T’suk woman speaks of how salmon are nurtured by natural water systems — when fish bones are left on the side of the beach, animals are able to feed off that same nutrition.
Bears and other animals then expel that waste, which nurtures other relatives on the floor of the forest, and helps plants grow which are then harvested from the land.
It’s one of many teachings that are key to understanding Indigenous food systems in the territories they serve, Jim says.
“Those teachings, that language and the relationship to nutrition all comes back to food,” she says. “Whether it’s feeding us or feeding ecosystems, it’s important to understand that relationship.”
George-Jim has ancestry from both her parents stemming from the southern part of so-called Vancouver Island, T’Sou-ke and W̱SÁNEĆ Territories. She says she was raised to acknowledge jurisdictions outside of those boundaries which is why she she uses the more territory-based word T’suk.
She is currently the community liaison Initiative lead of ŚW̱,ȻENEṈITEL Indigenous Food Systems Initiative, a First Nations-led program focused on sustaining local traditional foods.
ŚW̱,ȻENEṈITEL recently put out a call for spring grant applications for projects involving local Indigenous food and knowledge systems on Lekwungen, W̱SÁNEĆ, T’suk and Pacheedaht territories.
The grants range from $100 to $10,000 and cover activities such as creating food or medicine gardens, providing nutritional education, removing invasive species, providing traditional food for entire communities, and land restoration.
This year, the Initiative has created four themed categories for proposals: Fill Your Basket & Community Harvest; Maintenance & Restoration; Storytelling; and Transformation & Transition.
“For us as Indigenous peoples, it all comes back to the land itself and the land, as we know, reflects our economy,” says George-Jim, who has worked with the initiative since 2019.
“When we have sustenance, that comes from ensuring that we have abundance. We have the land management and the laws that ensure the longevity of the land and who we are.”
Working with communities
The initiative initially started with the intention of wanting to do things differently — granting projects from inside the communities instead of through outside agencies. Many times, external bodies that provide funding don’t actually address the root of the problem, George-Jim says.
There are philanthropic foundations and charities that are starting to take steps towards having different relationships with Indigenous Peoples on the receiving end of grants, explains George-Jim, “but as we know, alot of diversity and inclusion strategies still don’t talk about the root.”
George-Jim explains that ŚW̱,ȻENEṈITEL is unique as a place-based program, because it’s about how Indigenous leaders can move between the spaces and boundaries that have been put up around them.
She says the grants are about direct relationships and working together to care for communities, the land, and future generations.
“It’s actually working with communities (through) community partnerships,” she says.
The work of the initiative is about self-determination. This is done by creating space and resources for funders to come to the understanding of how the initiatives need to be met — with an Indigenous-led focus, says George-Jim.
The Initiative is now at a place where the funders don’t want to speak on behalf of communities and instead want to act as a facilitator for change, she adds.
“The work of our own people and communities often does not fit into a program or into a funding stream,” she says.
The grants aren’t just about food sovereignty, but also incorporate language, culture and family structures.
Why fund Indigenous food sovereignty?
“We are interdependent on each other,” says George-Jim.
“We can and have always been self-sufficient, and our wealth is seen as how we take care of the land and how we give back to the land versus … wealth, in the view of a foreign economy to these territories, is seen as how much can be extracted.”
George-Jim speaks to the legacy of colonialism in the changing landscape through agriculture and the displacement of Indigenous peoples through colonialism, including residential schools, reserve systems, and more.
“If we really want to tackle systemic issues, we need to talk about what is literally rooted here,” she says, adding that, “it’s all of our responsibility to remove the conditions of colonialism from these territories in order to restore balance to our food systems and our ways of being as local Indigenous people.”
People from Lekwungen, W̱SÁNEĆ, Tsuk, and Pacheedaht territories can apply for grants either through a written or oral application by Feb. 25.