The First Farmers were Indigenous.


Ever thought Indigenous peoples learned farming from settlers? Think again. We are the First Farmers of Turtle Island. We were already working the land long before our Euro-visitors dropped in. Nomadic wanderers? Not quite. Living with the land and using sophisticated sustainable agricultural practices were our thing. One of the ironies of modern farming is the effort that is currently invested in eradicating “weeds”, many of which were either domesticated or used for medicine by First Farmers. 


Many of the foods people love today have grown and been planted, stewarded and eaten on Turtle Island for centuries, if not millennia.

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"Before 1492, tomatoes, potatoes, wild rice, salmon, pumpkins, peanuts, bison, chocolate, vanilla, blueberries and corn, among other foods, were unknown in Europe, Africa and Asia. Today, we think of tomatoes as an Italian staple, of potatoes as quintessentially Irish or northern European, and even of peanuts as native to Africa. But Native American farmers cultivated and developed these foods over hundreds of generations, long before Europeans exported them throughout the world," explains Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution, in the foreword for The Mitsitam Café Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian by executive chef Richard Hetzler.

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We were good at agriculture but some things got in the way, like the Indian Act and its series of rules which made farming on the reserves an activity destined to fail. Laws, restrictions and the Permit System were put in place to limit access to farm land and settlers were given large tracts of our fertile farm land. Successful Indigenous run cattle ranches were taken out of operation. 


Back then, it was out of our control. Our limited participation in agriculture today is not of our doing. We must remember that we were the First Farmers and recognize that today, we have a chance to be again. It is appropriate and called for that the Canadian government support Indigenous farmers - this is an important area of reconciliation. First Farms & Forests (today they are called permaculture food forests) aims to encourage young Indigenous farmers to take advantage of the opportunity to get back to what we do best - work with the land. Let’s use this deep ancestral knowledge to help guide all people to a more sustainable approach to agriculture and develop food systems that honour relationships between people and the land.