Throughout my lived experiences in Labrador I only ever assumed that hunting and fishing were healthy activities. This past summer, I was cod fishing with my partner Ashlee Cunsolo, and good friend Cliff Russell. We easily caught our limit of fish, then kept Cliff company as he cleaned and prepared the fish, and we have enjoyed sharing and eating those fish ever since. In addition to the fishing, the time spent exploring the William’s Harbour area through hiking, berry picking, storytelling, and star gazing made it one of the highlights of my summer.
I am convinced land based activities like this fishing trip to William’s Harbour are not only healthy endeavours, but are also foundational to health. But new research has challenged my intuitive sense of this wellness. Dr. Chris Furgal, whom I get to collaborate with through my own research activities, co-authored an interesting article in 2014 with Dr. Ursula King, Is Hunting Still Healthy? Understanding the Interrelationships between Indigenous Participation in Land-Based Practices and Human-Environmental Health.
Through this article, they did an analysis of the international literature on hunting and harvesting practices in Indigenous communities around the world. In doing so, they developed a new model that helps us all consider this question in a more holistic way. This model provides three categories for consideration: the catch, the preparing and sharing, and the consuming.
Catch: There are physical health benefits from hunting activities, and there is a strong sense of well-being associated with being on the land, and having a traditional Indigenous identity. I know for myself, I always feel happier and healthier when I am out on the land and harvesting food with friends and family. And yet, this article reminded me that, particularly in some Indigenous communities, not everyone can afford to participate in the same way or have the same ability to access country foods. Also with a changing climate and environment, there can be increased safety risks for participating in land-based activities.
Preparing and Sharing: There are community and family bonds created when people prepare and share food together. The international literature highlighted this positive feature related to hunting and harvesting. Yet, not everyone has the same access to food. The literature also highlighted food insecurity, reportedly less sharing of food, and food safety issues.
Consume: Traditional foods are clearly my favourite, most sought after, and much anticipated foods. Duck, caribou, bakeapples, or salmon all come to mind. There was evidence and nutritional justification for promoting traditional foods in the literature, but this too came with its own risk related to environmental contaminants.
In the end, the authors state that whether or not hunting is healthy is not a simple question. The interrelationships and connections are complex, and “how ‘health’ is understood requires a considerably broader lens than that focused predominantly on individual human biology. To do this requires a radical rethink in the way research and policy makers approach these complex issues” (King & Furgal 2014).
From my understandings and experiences in Labrador, I still argue that hunting and harvesting is healthy; however, this research did make me think differently as I can now envision situations where hunting and fishing would be unhealthy. This gives me food for thought for my next adventure on the land, and in the years ahead I also look forward to reflecting on the model and considering how it can be applied to formulating and implementing improved public policies with community and individual health in mind.
King, U., & Furgal, C. (2014). Is Hunting Still Healthy? Understanding the Interrelationships between Indigenous Participation in Land-Based Practices and Human-Environmental Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(6). doi:10.3390/ijerph110605751