What we heard - First Nation outreach sessions - spring 2017

What we heard – First Nation outreach sessions – spring 2017 (PDF version, 1,631 KB)

Working in partnership with First Nations to support and enable social and economic development through agriculture and food security is an important step towards reconciliation. Recognizing that First Nations have unique and diverse realities, perspectives and needs when it comes to agriculture and agri-food, it is critical that we foster relationships and work in partnership with First Nations to develop policies and programs that support inclusive growth of the sector.

As a first step towards fostering a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) held two outreach sessions with leaders, farmers, land managers, and economic development organizations from First Nations communities (on and off reserve), as well as others involved in the agriculture and agri-food sector and federal, provincial, and territorial representatives.

The first outreach session was held in Enoch Cree Nation, Alberta on April 19, 2017, and the second was held on June 1, 2017, near Montreal on the traditional territory of the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. In total, approximately 85 participants attended from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Northwest Territories.


The objectives of the sessions were:

  • to hear First Nations' perspectives regarding agricultural issues, challenges and opportunities
  • to share information and get feedback on AAFC programs and future plans, including the Canadian Agricultural Partnership
  • to seek input on engaging and working collaboratively with First Nations
  • to build the foundation for an ongoing dialogue and relationship with First Nations that will help support greater First Nation participation in the agriculture and agri-food sector


Overall, the sessions provided an opportunity for participants to build relationships, learn from the experience of others, and discuss what needs to be done to capitalize on agricultural opportunities in First Nation communities (See Annex A for post-session survey highlights).

Participants acknowledged that there are challenges facing First Nations in the sector (e.g. access to capital, land issues and lack of specialized expertise), but were encouraged by unique and promising agricultural opportunities with the potential to support economic and social development in First Nation communities.

Among others, these include:

  • niche markets for Indigenous plants
  • products and knowledge
  • the untapped potential of land resources currently being leased to non-First Nation farmers
  • a growing land base as a result of treaties
  • a large young population interested in seizing economic development opportunities

Several participants noted that the outreach sessions were only the beginning of a dialogue with AAFC, and were providing an opportunity to build a positive and healthy relationship between AAFC and First Nations communities.

As a next step following the outreach sessions, AAFC developed this "What We Heard" report to reflect the key messages expressed by participants and to highlight the major themes that emerged.

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  • Relationship-building
    • Establishing and sustaining relationships with Indigenous communities is crucial to ensuring real change
  • Information sharing and communication
    • Improving communication and outreach of AAFC programs in a more targeted way is a key next step following these sessions
  • Capacity building and skills development
    • Capacity building and skills development are priorities for supporting First Nations agriculture
  • Coordination and collaboration
    • Participants highlighted the need for greater coordination across FPT programs and services
  • Access to capital
    • Access to capital is a major barrier to entry into the sector for many First Nations
  • Commitment and follow-through
    • Follow-through, including concrete action and continued dialogue between AAFC and First Nations, is essential
  • Targeted and accessible programming
    • First Nations expressed need for greater accessibility to agriculture programming and for targeted programs to meet their unique needs.
  • Land access and issues
    • First Nations experience a variety of land-related issues, ranging from access to agricultural land, taking over leases, lack of knowledge or experience of farming, and converting Treaty Land Entitlement land to reserve land

Overview of the meeting

The First Nation Outreach Sessions were structured in two parts. The first part focused on opportunities and challenges in the agriculture and agri-food sector, the important contributions of First Nations to the agriculture sector, and the agricultural landscape in communities. The discussion questions were:

  • What does the agricultural landscape look like in your community?
  • What is working well? What could be improved?
  • What are the agriculture and agri-food growth opportunities in your community?
  • Are there particular barriers or challenges to agricultural development for your community?

The second part focused on the agriculture programs and services available to First Nation communities and producers and how they might be tailored to be more accessible and/or better meet the needs of Indigenous peoples, including through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and A Food Policy for Canada. This part of the session also included a forward-looking discussion on opportunities for continued engagement with First Nations and next steps. The discussion questions were:

  • What kinds of programs are you currently using for your agricultural sector?
  • What kind of supports/programs would be most beneficial for your communities?
  • What are the best ways to consult First Nations peoples and to work together on growing participation and opportunities?
  • Are there other next steps you would like to see coming out of this meeting?

Discussion themes

A number of themes emerged from the outreach sessions, which are described in detail below (an infographic of the themes is in Annex A – Post-session survey highlights). Themes common to both the Western and Eastern sessions were: relationship-building, information sharing and communication, capacity building and skills development, coordination and collaboration, commitment and follow-through, and targeted/accessible programs. Additionally, in the Western session, access to capital was highlighted as a major issue, whereas land availability issues were more prominent in the Eastern session.


To ensure real change and improved results for First Nations, participants emphasized the need for AAFC, as well as provincial/ territorial governments, to establish and sustain good working relationships with First Nation individuals and communities. A recurring message among participants was the need to consider agricultural extension services (e.g. mentorship) that provide continuity and support throughout a project's life cycle. It was recommended that AAFC dedicate employees to building communitybased relationships with First Nations and to explain and promote AAFC programming in each region.

Participants also raised agriculture in the context of Aboriginal and treaty rights. The details of how AAFC and First Nations will engage in a long-term, nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership needs to be explored further.

Information sharing and communication

Many First Nation participants were not aware of the range of agricultural programs and services available. Improving communication and outreach on AAFC programs to First Nation communities in a more targeted way was highlighted as a key next step coming out of this session. Specific suggestions included:

  • launching a First Nations portal on the AAFC website
  • providing First Nation success stories for each program
  • developing fact sheets
  • creating a best practices network
  • setting up AAFC booths at First Nations events and college/university fairs
  • leveraging social media

Given the limited internet connectivity in many Indigenous communities, it was noted that sending out links or referring individuals to AAFC's website for information about programs and services is not sufficient and must be accompanied by other traditional means of communication.

Capacity building and skills development

First Nation communities are diverse and have varying levels of capacity. Some First Nations are preparing to become export-ready, while others are exploring the possibility of starting a farm or agribusiness. In addition to farmers and producers, it was noted that capacity building is needed for the First Nation organizations that are supporting the sector (e.g. Assembly of First Nations, Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario, National Indigenous Agricultural Association).

Ensuring First Nations communities are equipped with the education, agricultural knowledge, business skills, and technology to increase their participation in the agricultural economy is critical. Mentorship was noted as a key lever for capacity building, as it would enable the retention of knowledge and skills among First Nations people. As a young and growing segment of the population, First Nations youth represent an underutilized labour pool. It was noted that the goal should be to support youth in accessing the wide array of jobs across the sector (e.g. farmers, food processors, agronomists, entrepreneurs).

Coordination and collaboration

Another theme that emerged from the outreach sessions was better coordination between federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments on Indigenous agriculture. Aligning goals and resources makes it easier for agricultural producers and processors to access the appropriate assistance and results in improved support where it is needed most.

Partnerships between governments, First Nation communities, industry and education and training institutions was another recommendation to build a sustainable agricultural sector, respectful of First Nations traditional knowledge, values and principles.

Commitment and follow-through

Lack of policy and program continuity on the part of the federal government has created cynicism with First Nations, including in the agricultural sphere. Follow through is needed to strengthen the relationship, and to make the kinds of changes that are needed to expand First Nations participation in the agricultural sector. Continuing the dialogue between AAFC and First Nations peoples is essential in creating partnerships that lead to action and results.

Targeted and accessible programs

Many participants expressed the need for greater flexibility of existing programming or for programming targeted to the specific needs of First Nations. Although there are some large scale businesses, many do not know where to start or are small family businesses ready to move into commercial production. Participants expressed the need for extension and mentorship services, including support ranging from the initial start-up phase to assistance with feasibility studies, geographical information system mapping, and recommendations for land use.

Another related issue that was raised was accessibility of programs – both in terms of eligibility criteria and application requirements. Onerous application requirements often discourage potential First Nation applicants from applying. The simplification of application processes, shorter processing times, review of cost-sharing and financing requirements, and the possibility of explicitly identifying indigenous persons and organizations as eligible applicants were identified as areas for improvement. Participants flagged that program criteria need to also consider projects that have the potential to improve social outcomes (e.g. health, food security). 

Access to capital

A key barrier raised by many participants was the difficulty in securing financing to start or expand a farm or agri-business, particularly for First Nation individuals on reserve. Given that First Nation reserve land is owned by the Crown and assets on reserve are collectively owned, they cannot be used as collateral to obtain loans from financial institutions. Programs and support mechanisms to address this barrier (e.g. equity gap funding) need to be considered in order to better support First Nations interested in starting an agricultural business.

Land access and issues

Access to land varies across regions. Many First Nation reserves are small, particularly in the East. Lack of access to Crown land was identified as a barrier to agricultural development. Some participants expressed concern that Crown land has been sold to the private sector for the pursuit of agricultural activities without providing the opportunity for First Nations to purchase the land. Some communities explained that they have land that is good for farming, but that they do not know what to do with it, or they would like to ensure it is leased at a fair price.

For First Nations with Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) agreements (mostly in the Prairies), converting TLE land to reserve land is a long, slow process. Those who lack a significant agricultural land base will likely have smaller scale production with a greater focus on social development rather than economic development. Partnering with organizations such as the National Aboriginal Land Managers Associations, which offers training and capacity building in First Nations land management, was suggested. The need to consult local communities and recognize ancestral harvesting and fishing rights was also identified.

Next steps

As part of AAFC's commitment to improving information-sharing and follow-through, below is an update on some of the key priorities the Department will continue to advance in the months to come, including: the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the development of A Food Policy for Canada, and continued dialogue and relationship-building with Indigenous communities.

Launch of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership was launched on April 1, 2018. The Partnership is a five year (2018-2023) $3 billion dollar investment by federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments that will strengthen the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector, ensuring continued innovation, growth and prosperity.

The Partnership features simplified and streamlined programs and services that are easier to access, and key enhancements to programs that help farmers manage risks that threaten the viability of their farm. The Partnership includes federal programs and activities to help:

  • improve market development and market access activities to address emerging needs of the sector, including small and medium enterprises, and help expand domestic and international markets and trading opportunities
  • enhance the competitiveness of the sector by advancing its science and innovation capacity, and adoption of innovative products and practices, with an emphasis on sustainable and clean growth; and,
  • strengthen the sector by better reflecting the diversity of our communities, enhancing collaboration across different jurisdictions, and securing and supporting public trust in the sector.

Six federal programs will support these priorities: AgriMarketing, AgriCompetitiveness, AgriScience, AgriInnovate, AgriDiversity, and AgriAssurance. In addition, producers will continue to have access to a robust suite of Business Risk Management programs. The Department is reviewing its suite of federal programs to ensure they are accessible to Indigenous peoples, and other under-represented groups.

FPT governments engage in bilateral discussions on the design of provincial/territorial (PT) cost-shared programming that PTs will deliver over the course of the Partnership. As part of this process, AAFC will continue to work with PTs to identify areas of collaboration on agriculture initiatives targeted to under-represented groups (e.g. Indigenous peoples, Northern communities, etc.), and ensure programming under the Partnership is accessible.

Development of A Food Policy for Canada

In May 2017, the Government of Canada announced the launch of consultations to inform the development of A Food Policy for Canada. A variety of consultations mechanisms were used to hear from diverse groups of Canadians and stakeholders across the country, including: an online survey, which received nearly 45,000 responses; a National Food Summit held in Ottawa, and six regional engagement sessions, including one in the Northwest Territories. Many national and regional Indigenous organizations were invited to participate in both the summit and the regional sessions. In addition, Members of Parliament held 29 town halls and Food Secure Canada facilitated 28 community discussions across Canada.

Recognizing the vital perspective of Indigenous peoples in the creation of a food policy, which will cover the entire food system, AAFC reached out broadly to ensure Indigenous representation in the various engagement fora. AAFC has also supported self-led engagement by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Native Women's Association of Canada which is providing valuable feedback that will be used to inform the policy. AAFC will continue to communicate and collaborate with other federal departments, Indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders, as the policy is developed, to deepen the understanding of how food policy can best support the social and economic well-being of Indigenous communities and all Canadians.

Continued dialogue and relationship-building with Indigenous communities

AAFC is committed to engaging and fostering meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples. The outreach sessions were positive and provided an excellent opportunity to raise program awareness, build relationships and network, and share perspectives and feedback. We know that this is only a first step. We will be exploring mechanisms for regular engagement with Indigenous peoples.

We encourage you to get in touch with us if you have any questions or suggestions about our policies and programs, and we welcome your continued input and feedback on how AAFC could better support First Nation agricultural development. We look forward to continued discussion, dialogue, and collaboration as we move forward.

Annex A – Post-session survey highlights

89% of participants approved of the format of the sessions.

80% of attendees were practitioners (for example, land managers, farmers and economic development organizations).

88% of participants felt they were given opportunities to speak and their views were heard.

78% of participants identified as First Nations, and 54% lived on reserve.

56% of participants agreed they gained a better understanding of AAFC programs.

44% of participants indicated they had accessed AAFC programs and services.

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Indigenous Pathfinder
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
1341 Baseline Road
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Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C5