Lately I have been hearing about much illness in my circle of friends and family. This makes me realize I should be very happy and grateful for my own health. Often, I hear news from home, in Attawapiskat, of someone having a cold or the flu and it seems like many people in my community are constantly battling some kind of illness.

I believe that part of the problem with the general health of most Native communities up the James Bay coast is diet. The diet of many households in remote Native communities is made up of foods that are economical to purchase, easy and fast to prepare. This is done due to the high cost of most foods that must be transported by aircraft. With large families to feed, most people purchase inexpensive canned and packaged goods, such as wieners, Kraft dinner, canned soups, Klik and canned stews.

Many families in remote First Nation communities do not include nutritious foods like vegetables and fruits as part of their diet. There are no farms in or near these communities, hence fresh produce is an unknown. I must point out that my dad actually managed to grow an incredible number of potatoes this summer on an island near Attawapiskat; this is definitely not the norm. Too often, people decide on meals that are fast to prepare and usually do not include fresh produce.

Since most people cannot buy fresh produce, there is a high consumption of packaged and canned goods that are detrimental to a person’s health. This is more so if these foods are used on a long-term basis. Most packaged and canned goods contain a fair amount of preservatives, nitrates and other chemicals that can be harmful. Some of these chemicals have been suspected of being carcinogenic.

In addition to not having access to fresh and fair-priced produce, my people have also had to deal with the fact that they were forced to give up a way of life that once guaranteed a generally balanced diet. The Crees on the James Bay coast were a nomadic people of hunters and gatherers. In the old days before the coming of the Europeans and modernization, my people moved in search of food and with the seasons. The diet then was mostly wild meat, fish, berries and edible plants. Our grocery store was our front yard and our front yard moved around in search of food. The food was fresh and nutritious.

With the coming of the Europeans, we were forced into restricted areas of land and to a great degree had to give up our nomadic traditional lifestyle. Of course, this also led to a change in diet. These days many of us who work in these communities don’t have the time to pursue a traditional way of life to put food on the table. We have big families and we are busy. Many of my people are underemployed and have difficulty affording any nutritious, more expensive food brought in by air. All in all, I am sad to say this all leads to poor diets with a result of much sickness and general poor health.

Come to think of it, maybe my dad, Marius, has the right idea. It could be that it istime for us to start growing at least those vegetables that are hardy enough to survivethe short summers up on the James Bay coast. Perhaps, the development of greenhouses toproduce fresh produce on a year-round basis is a possibility; just think, not only wouldit provide for nutritious affordable food but it would also be a make-work project.