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the Centre for Learning, Social Economy and Work at OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Buying Social Justice: Social Procurement and Community Development in Indigenous Communities in Canada

Much has rightly been made in recent years about the intractable social, economic, and cultural issues facing Indigenous people (TRC 2015). However, media, academic and popular attention has largely remained on developing a general (often paternalistic) awareness of these problems rather than focusing on actually existing solutions.  This is particularly true in terms of food. The astronomical cost of fresh and nutritious food and the negative results of the ‘nutrition transition’ to lower-cost industrial food in Indigenous communities have been identified in some quarters, but not the collective solutions community residents have devised to overcome these challenges.
This project focused on alternative food procurement in Canadian Indigenous communities, and how a networked web of neoliberal government policy, private-market profiteers and structural colonial oppression and racism has obstructed place-based, community-led sustainable food solutions offered by emerging and existing Indigenous social economy organizations and social enterprises.  Such solutions have generally been avoided in Canada because they do not fit easily into the prevailing neoliberal conception of economics, contradict the dominant narrative of a just Canada, and raise questions about what the economy should look like in an ideal world.
The project researched and mapped sites of alternative food procurement in Indigenous communities.  Research findings suggest several trends among these initiatives: they are place-based and respond directly to local problems; they are predominantly led by Indigenous communities and often supported by other organizations; most of them are food co-operatives; there is a surge in community and school gardens, some of which evolve into co-ops; and hospitals and universities are becoming involved with traditional foods.  Overall, this research illustrated replicable, scalable social enterprises that are having a demonstrably positive impact on food procurement in Indigenous communities.

This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


To learn more about this project:



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Contact Us

If you're interested in learning more about the project, please email Jennifer Sumner at jennifer.sumner@utoronto.ca.

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