Current Problems

Food Insecurity

Would you pay $40 for a bag of flour? Some remote First Nations in northern Ontario have no choice

February 10, 2023

Federal government promises $4.5M to tackle food security in 5 remote communities

Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation says the $4.5 million in funding from Nutrition North Canada will help ease the strain of high food costs in the Ojibway community. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

CBC News: Food costs are going up everywhere, but in remote First Nations communities, sticker shock at the store is the norm. In at least one community, Marten Falls First Nation, there isn’t even a store for in-person shopping. 

In Neskantaga First Nation, about 436 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., Chief Wayne Moonias said people are paying between $40 and $70 for a 10-kilogram bag of flour and upwards of $30 for sugar. That means making a traditional staple like bannock becomes a luxury not everyone in the Ojibway First Nation can afford.

On Thursday, the federal government promised to spend $4.5 million on Matawa First Nations Management’s Harvesters Support Program to help fight food insecurity faced by remote communities in northwestern Ontario. 

The money comes from Nutrition North Canada and is being distributed over 18 months to:

  • Eabametoong First Nation.
  • Marten Falls First Nation.
  • Neskantaga First Nation.
  • Nibinamik First Nation.
  • Webequie First Nation.

Co-ordinators will be hired in each community, tasked with deciding how to best use the funds based on each First Nation’s needs. “It allows that flexibility,” said David Neegan, executive director of Matawa’s Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services program. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach … it’s based on what the communities’ needs are.”

For example, he said, there is currently no community store open in Marten Falls First Nation. So if someone runs out of essentials — like milk, eggs, meat, diapers or formula — they’d have to wait until the next plane arrives and be prepared for high costs further inflated by shipping fees. 

With the Harvesters Support Program, though, subsidies can be provided to help make these prices more manageable. There is also a push to improve communities’ access to traditional foods through hunting, harvesting and food sharing, another area where the funding can be utilized. The hope is the program is continually expanded, but that’s up to the federal government, Neegan said.

Tins of coffee sit on a store shelf.
A tin of coffee sells for $32.79 in Neskantaga First Nation, one of several remote communities in northwestern Ontario that deals with food costs that are much higher than in the rest of Canada. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Indigenous people living in Canada experience food insecurity — defined as a lack of regular access to safe, nutritious food — at higher rates than non-Indigenous people. A 2018 national survey by the First Nations Information Governance Centre found over half of Indigenous households experience food insecurity. According to research from the University of Toronto, just one in eight Canadian households overall suffers from food insecurity.

Restoring traditional diets

David Paul Achneepineskum went to residential schools during his primary education and later graduated from Geraldton Composite High School in 1970. He said one of the things he missed most from home was his family’s cooking. Being separated from the land meant losing access to traditional food. “The food was foreign to us. A lot of people got sick [from] it,” he said about what was served at the residential school.

Achneepineskum, chief executive officer of Matawa First Nations Management, said Indigenous people’s diets continue to be disrupted due to their reliance on processed foods. He spoke about the health problems — diabetes, cancer and heart disease — faced by people in remote communities, and their link to lack of access to healthy, traditional foods.

But he said he finds hope the Harvesters Food Program will close the gaps in nutrition and improve people’s health. For him, returning to traditional teachings and meals is an essential part of that.

A man holds a sturgeon he pulled from the river.
Sturgeon are a critical part of the diet for people living in Neskantaga First Nation, as food from the grocery store is too expensive for many people there. (Logan Turner/CBC)

Moonias said his 81-year-old father has three or four freezers full of traditional food, “and that’s how he sustains himself.” Educating young people about how to harvest the land can help maintain this traditional knowledge and nutrition, which has been lost by so many, he said.

Nutrition can be linked to bigger issues facing northern communities, like boil-water advisories, the housing crisis and mental health, he added. “In terms of the wellness, I think it plays a part in how we use the land, how we use the traditional food as our substance to try to bridge some of those issues that we’re dealing with,” Moonias said. 

“This is a good start. This is not the end. I think there’s an opportunity to expand and enhance on this support.”


Sarah Law, Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at