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Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!
Is veganism compatible with traditional Indigenous cultures and values? How can animal rights activists advocate for animals effectively while respecting Indigenous communities and including their voices in our efforts, and without reinforcing colonial and white supremacist paradigms? Join us as we explore and discuss these questions together.
Margaret Robinson, Vegan Mi’kmaq Scholar
In our first main segment, we share a short recorded interview from CBC’s “Cross Country Checkup” with Dr. Margaret Robinson, a researcher, activist, professor at Dalhousie Unversity, member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, and vegan. She outlines how she feels maintaining a vegan lifestyle helps her live in accordance with her traditional Mi’kmaq values.
Sierra Tasi Baker, Squamish Vegan
Our feature interview is with Sierra Tasi Baker, a consultant in sustainable city planning whose work is focused on Indigenous consultation and rights. Sierra is a member of the Squamish Nation, and she speaks with us on why she has chosen a vegan lifestyle and how that aligns with her Coast Salish identity and values. She also offers her insights on how animal rights activists can engage in advocacy efforts for animals in a way that is respectful to Indigenous communities and culture. As well, we have the privilege of hearing about some of her family history and the legends that are important to her community – she uses these to illustrate the emphasis placed on respecting animals and living in balance with nature in her culture.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Natasha Anderson-Brass, a member of the Key First Nation, who was unable to join us on the show but sent us this essay to share:
Why did I go vegan and what does being an Indigenous vegan mean to me?
I went vegan for many reasons, but mainly because I want to reduce my carbon footprint, live a more sustainable life, and not contribute to animal pain and suffering. Am I perfect? Absolutely not! Do I live a completely zero impact life? Hell no! But do I do my best? Yes.
In my view, my values as a vegan align quite well with my values as an Indigenous person. I have come to believe that a lot of what is perceived as Indigenous identity today is created through the media and represents either a romanticized or tragic version of Indigenous people. It tells some of the story, but of course it is not the whole picture of the complex reality of each individual’s experience. We should always check our own assumptions and biases when talking about any group of people.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that as an urban person of moderate means who is educated, I have the privilege to be able to think about and practice being vegan; as well, being vegan works for me on a biological level (meaning, I feel physically ok with the diet I am consuming) which isn’t always the case. In my view being vegan (on Turtle Island) is a privilege, which I know has been argued, but I honestly don’t think I would have found this path unless I was an educated person living in a large urban area. Have you ever been to a remote Rez? My community is in rural Saskatchewan and good luck finding local reasonably priced and yummy fruits, veggies, etc. out there. You have to drive for an hour to get to a decent grocery store. It is NOTHING like what we have access to here in Vancouver.
I have experienced some internal conflict about the intersectionality of who I am; I relate a lot to an article that was written by Margaret Robinson on Indigenous veganism and the apparent contradictions it can bring with it. Without repeating all her points, I have definitely experienced the idea that I am somehow going against my Indigenous culture by being vegan, even though I feel very strongly that it aligns with all aspects of my identity. For most of my life I have been disconnected from the Indigenous side of my family, not by choice but because I simply didn’t know who they were, and I still struggle with my identity. I am trying to do everything I can to fit in with the Indigenous community (both my home community and here in Vancouver as a guest) and build those connections, and food is a huge part of that experience. So, my work is to bring these ideas forward in a good way that honors and respects individuals freedom of choice as well as my own freedom of choice. Recently while in my community, I made a vegetable stew to go along with the traditional duck stew for a feast. Luckily I was allowed in the kitchen after befriending the cooks, and luckily one of the fasters in the community was also vegan and so I thought well, at least I have one ally in this! Worried (this is where anxiety over lateral violence and respecting “the protocol” comes into play, but that’s a whole other story), I placed the stew on the blanket to be served. To my surprise, the reception of the stew was extremely positive, with many meat eaters taking some and commenting on how delicious it was. So, I think I was able to challenge some notions of Indigenous identity without shaming or finger pointing, and build connection through food rather than disconnection.
How can activists advocate for animals in a way that is respectful toward Indigenous peoples?
I think first and foremost people need to do their own internal work by asking themselves the same questions you’ve posed, with the addition of thinking about their own privilege and why they are taking the actions that they are (is the goal to shame and feel superior, or is the goal to create connection and inspiration?). You also need to apply the framework of colonization/capitalism as the overarching cause of most of the environmental and human rights issues we face today, and the specific impact it has had on Indigenous people. It is always good to remind ourselves that we can’t make anybody do anything, and in my opinion the best motivator to foster true and lasting change is connection (inclusion) and inspiration. As Aunty always tells me, compassion and love will create the world we want, not fear and shaming. There is a great toolkit on how to be an ally to Indigenous peoples written by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, which I recommend everyone read! Chi miigwetch for the opportunity to share!
Key First Nation, Saskatchewan