An Indigenous Dietitian Walking in Two Worlds
Posted On June 01, 2021
Author: Marley Fisher (Red Sky Woman, Sturgeon Clan), RD, Chippewa Health Centre Community Dietitian
Growing up on the reserve, while navigating systemic racism, in the age of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, during battles for food sovereignty, and high rates of suicide and addiction. My life could have turned out very differently and I am humbled to be able to share my story of growth and discovery as an Indigenous Dietitian during National Indigenous history month.
I used to ask myself, “what is an undergraduate program”? As a first-generation post-secondary student, I had little understanding of the university lingo when I was accepted into Brescia University College for their Food and Nutrition program. I grew up in Munsee-Delaware Nation (MDN) and although I attended elementary and high school in London, Ontario, I still experienced culture shock when I went to university. It was a large and formal institution that I had to navigate on my own, which was challenging to say the least. I was no longer able to spend as much time with my family because I needed to prioritize my studies.
During my time as an undergraduate student, I also became involved in First Nation’s governance, serving from 2016-2020 on MDN Council. Over my two terms on council, I learned so much about Canada’s current and historical relationship with Indigenous people, as well as the issues that continue to plague Indigenous communities today. Having this knowledge really sparked my passion to always advocate for First Nation’s social justice and healthcare. There is so much positive work to be done in Indigenous communities, and I cannot imagine working in any other field.
In 2020, I reached my goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian and found work in a local First Nation Health Centre. While school taught me how to walk in the Western world, I now faced the challenge of figuring out how to walk in both worlds. How do I translate what is mostly “western-based” knowledge into culturally safe and effective care for Indigenous people?
One of the first things I noticed while starting a nutrition program from the ground up was that there is a lack of accessible nutrition resources (handouts, presentations, etc.) made for Indigenous audiences. This may be due to a larger concern, the shortage of Indigenous representation in the field of dietetics. An even more alarming issue I came across was a lack of nutrition research with regards to Indigenous ways of knowing and food systems. Evidenced-based practice is crucial for dietitians, but without research, I found that a lot of evidence is not available for this population.
While these issues continue to exist in the field, it is important that diversity and inclusion remain a focus for dietitians in Canada. This initiative may help to fill in the many knowledge and resource gaps that currently exist, and in turn, allow dietitians to provide Indigenous clients with appropriate resources. There may be significant nutrition findings regarding Indigenous food sovereignty and sustainability that could be monumental to the field, just waiting to be uncovered.
To conclude, I ask that dietitians and other health care professionals continue to explore their own biases, educate themselves on historical and modern-day Indigenous issues, acknowledge traditional Indigenous ways of knowing and doing, and do what they can to support diversity and inclusion of Indigenous people in the nutrition field.
June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day of celebration for the diverse Indigenous peoples of Canada but also a great time to reflect for those who identify as a Canadian settler. Buy a cookbook by an Indigenous author, enroll in Indigenous cultural safety training, attend a virtual Pow Wow, purchase goods from a local Indigenous artisan, etc. It’s beautiful to celebrate a culture, but we also need to appreciate the resilience of the people who have carried so many traditions this far.
- San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training https://www.sanyas.ca/training/ontario/ics-enhanced-health
- Nourish: Food is our Medicine learning journey https://www.nourishhealthcare.ca/food-is-our-medicine-landing-page
- Indigenous Cultural Safety Collaborative Learning Series https://www.icscollaborative.com/
PCDA is currently searching for an Indigenous dietitian to volunteer as an Advisor. We thank/Miigwech Kelly Gordon for her service to the PCDA in its first year.
Miigwech Marley for writing this wonderful blog in Celebration of Indigenous History Month. We encourage all dietitians to learn more about their role in reconciliation.