In Canada, there are some estimates that put our underdeveloped or undeveloped territory at 70 % of our landmass. As we let that sink in, can we now imagine what an opportunity this is for development?
This large area of undeveloped land mass, in my opinion, is the richest in Canada. However, to date, the majority of economic investment and development has gone along the southern strip of Canada that borders the USA.
So why hasn’t Canada given attention to developing its northern lands? I think there are three major challenges
1. The start of colonization and the importing of southern products and models to the Northern food chain.
2. Lack of knowledge of land and marine plants, ecosystem, land and marine management plans, protocols and processes that can create sustainable industries.
3. Lack of developed curriculum and training programs specific to Northern environment, plants and marine species.
Let me explain why I think we are where we are. I will use the example of agriculture and aquaculture , but this could be repeated for upwards of eleven (11) industry sectors that I will go through over in my future blogs.
When the research was started on the Lower North Shore in collaboration with the Coasters Association, we quickly realized we had some of the best plants, berries, and marine products in the world. Nutritional tests were off the charts and were coming back showing we had some of the most nutrient-rich products in the world.
So, what happened and why weren’t we developing them. Why were they fading out of our children’s diet, when our grandparents lived off them? I think this first issue goes back to the colonization of the North. My father who is now 90 tells me stories of when the first missionary boats came to the territory. They came with apples and vegetables that our people hadn’t seen. They told the people they didn’t know why they weren’t dying of scurvy and to eat the products they had brought, and they would take their fish and bring back more “GOOD” food to the Community. This first initial colonization tactic changed our food chain and not for the better.
Anyone that listens to the news will hear about the food security we are facing and the health issues we have due to our eating habits. Also, by believing the new people coming to the territories and disregarding our traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), we started the trend of eating lower quality food. In truth, one cloudberry has more vitamin C than a full orange. Our crowberry has more antioxidants than any North American berry on the market and the list goes on. Also, southern products grow very poorly in the North. We have very acidic soil that our plants thrive in but southern plants struggle in. So, the first European settlers said our soil was no good so everything would have to be imported and we believed them. They were wrong and the people of the North are having to rebuild TEK back into their culture, It is not an easy task to convince community members to return to ways of the past.
If you want to learn more some interesting research has been completed in the states through the Food Empowerment Project, with the Indigenous people of Mesoamerica. See the link to their research below.
Knowledge development, sharing, and management
One of the biggest world challenges in developing the Northern part of the world is the lack of knowledge, awareness, and ecosystem management structures developed for plants and marine life in the North. Through a traditional knowledge audit completed with the Coasters Association in 2016 we have identified sixty-five northern plants from the land and sea that can be developed for national and international markets in the food, nutraceutical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical market but the lack of concrete research on these plants is startling. Countries such as Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Scandinavia have done some work in species such as cloudberry, lingonberry, etc. However, there is a lack of developed industry standards for Northern marine and land plants, research on micropropagation, farming, and shared best practices within Canada.
This lack of sharing Research and Development (R & D) often causes provinces and territories to repeat research which results in a big loss of valuable time and money. Also, we are at a critical point of losing our traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), simply because the generation that holds this knowledge is very elderly. A lot of Northern regions are trying to record this information with little to no funding. Canada’s greatest bank of R & D knowledge, it’s elders, hold the development knowledge of 70% of our country’s territory. This TEK will literally be gone within the next ten (10) years if we don’t act now; and first, appreciate the value of this knowledge; and second, start putting into practice the harvesting and manufacturing of these Northern fauna and marine life.
We need this critical traditional ecological knowledge to build our Northern territories; it is essential to the building of sustainable ecosystem management, as well as, the development of harvesting and processing protocols. For example, I have seen our elders explain extremely complicated processes for specific medicinal plants harvested and used by our people. They were extremely intelligent and had created some amazing harvesting procedures and products that astonish the scientists we work with. Some plants have multiple uses buds, roots, interior bark, exterior bark all done at specific times, temperatures. This TEK needs to be matched with scientific research to validate what compounds actually are and the effect they have on for example homeopathic medicines. We are in the process of completing this research in collaboration with Coasters Association - Northern Research Center and youth from the territory that have completed their higher education in science and technology. The work is cutting edge, however, the research is underfunded.
Curriculum and Training
Have you ever tried to find Northern Agriculture or aquaculture training? Not an easy task I can tell you!
What you will discover are lots of programs teaching us how to build greenhouses and fields to produce tomatoes, cucumber, etc., and how to adjust our soil to get southern plants to grow in the North. If you start googling specific northern plants and berries you will find some information such as lingonberries and cloudberries (the more popular ones) that have been developed in Norway, Scandinavia, and Finland. For these berries there are research papers on cultivation, storage, processing, etc. Nowhere in Canada other than what has been developed in the last few years on our Lower North Shore territory in collaboration with the Coasters Association, Commission Scolaire du Littoral, Services Quebec and the Lower North Shore Bioproducts Coop have we found curriculum dedicated to teaching how to harvest and cultivate the specific plants of the North. Don't get me wrong I am not against the development of greenhouses to produce southern plants as I do believe it is a part of our food security solution but we will never be able to produce and export these plants to southern markets because we cannot compete with southern market prices. Our transportation and operational costs are just too high.
Canada needs to build a full strategy on curriculum and training development to move the development of northern specific plants forward as they are very behind the eight ball. This however, cannot be developed from Ottawa, it has to be done by us, the people of the North. There are so many changes needed in developing curriculum content that we could write a book at this point. However, working with the Coasters Association, Commission Scolaire du Littoral and Services Quebec we are have a list of necessary curriculum teaching and student booklets, and one by one in a collaborative way, we are developing these curriculum resources. Again, curriculum development is an area that is severely underfunded.
So, I guess you are asking yourself what’s next? What do we have to do to advocate for our people that are passionate about this beautiful place we call home, the Lower North Shore? I think we have to move forward with what we have and prove them wrong. We have to believe strongly that we have one of the most valuable territories in the world and develop ourselves because we have been part of the problem waiting for a solution to come from somewhere else when the answers and solutions are within us. We have to change the development language that we are using in the North and we have to start saying the truth that we have the most valuable lands for agriculture and aquaculture development and richest Canadian resource of land and marine plants.
I met the other day with a very wise lady called Dr. Sangeeta Sahi from London and she said something very profound to me "If you continue to accept and let people dictate how you will be developed you are part of the problem you have to stand up together and say this is how the development will work in our territory." She also stated, "sustainability is not a model but a system of values and principles". I agree and I think we have to go back to our traditional knowledge, values, and principles and build a healthy, sustainable, and economically strong Northern Canada.
I can't wait to hear your thoughts and what you think are some of our successes and the next steps in developing the North!!