The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the University of Ottawa, and Université de Montréal released the draft results of the 10-year First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES), which in part examined the amount of trace metals in drinking water and pharmaceuticals in surface water.

The FNFNES presents, for the first time, a body of evi­dence on the importance of traditional foods in the diet of First Nations and the impacts of environ­mental degradation, such as chemical contaminants and climate change on First Nations citizens and communities and their ability to access healthy foods.

“The impacts of climate change and industry are eroding the land’s ability to provide healthy foods for too many of our people. It is important that food insecurity be addressed, the cost of nutritious food be lowered, and the impacts of industry be assessed,” said Perry Bellegarde, AFN Chief. “First Nations have long been caretakers of these lands and these lands have taken care of us. First Nations must play a role in this work.  We know that maintaining a healthy environment must include action on climate change and pollution.”

The FNFNES revealed that between 24–60 per cent of First Nations experience food insecurity, which is three to five times higher than the general Canadian population.  Food insecurity and malnutrition have a significant impact on the overall health of First Nations citizens. The study also recommends actions to address the situation.

The decade-long investigation, funded and supported by the Government of Canada, into First Nations diets and food-related exposures to environmental pollutants. The FNFNES studied nutrient values and environmental chemical hazards in traditional foods, heavy metals and pharmaceutical metabolites in drinking and surface water, and mercury levels in hair. Using an ecozone sampling framework, the FNFNES gathered information from 92 randomly selected First Nations from all regions of Canada south of the 60th parallel and asked participants a range of questions dealing with traditional and store-bought food use and food security.

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The FNFNES also points to these issues being, in part, rooted in the ongoing issues with water and wastewater treatment systems in many First Nations communities.

“We are happy to have worked with so many First Nations partners across the country to complete this monumental study over the last 10 years. The results clearly show the need for continuing support and engagement to promote nutrition and environmental health of First Nations,” said principal investigator, Dr. Laurie Chan, University of Ottawa. “FNFNES serves as a platform to encourage innovative program development at the local and regional levels.”

The tabling of these results to First Nations who participated in the study marks the process of wrapping-up the FNFNES, but the research points to other areas that need further study. The core partners of the FNFNES are launching another multi-year research project called the Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) study. Like the FNFNES, this new study is being funded by Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

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