“It wasn’t built for us”

The possibility of Indigenous food sovereignty in settler colonial food bureaucracies


  • Sarah Rotz York University
  • Adrianne Lickers Xavier McMaster University https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7728-9602
  • Tabitha Robin University of British Columbia




Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Food Systems, Food Policy, Land Use Policy, Settler Colonialism, Governance, Consultation and Consent


This article examines the extent to which Indige­nous-led food systems and sovereignty goals, frameworks, and priorities are recognized, affirmed, and supported within the agri-food pub­lic sector. For this study, we focus on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), but the findings and analysis have implications for settler-Indigenous relations more broadly. First, we situate Indigenous food systems and sovereignties within the context of agri-food bureaucracies in Canada. We then present the research design, which involved 27 interviews with people working within or collaborating with OMAFRA on issues related to agricultural land use, programming, and development, and Indige­nous relations and food systems. The find­ings are categorized into five themes: differing needs, visions, and priorities; land access, conver­sion, and health; representation; consultation and consent in agri-food programming; capacity build­ing. The findings reveal major gaps in Indigenous represen­tation, leadership, and control, and an absence of Indigenous-led planning and decision-making in the agri-food public sector. The findings further show that non-Indigenous people lack cru­cial knowledge concerning treaties and Indigenous rela­tionships to land and stewardship, which cre­ates ongoing and significant barriers to reconcilia­tion. We close by discussing key barriers and opportuni­ties for supporting Indigenous food sys­tem and sovereignty programming and ways forward for deepening settler knowledge of Indigenous issues and experiences. The perspec­tives shared in this study are intended to provide food system research, planning, policy, and practice with insights in order to begin to address structural injustices and better support Indigenous food sovereignty. 


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Author Biographies

Sarah Rotz, York University

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

Adrianne Lickers Xavier, McMaster University

Assistant Professor, Indigenous Studies

Tabitha Robin, University of British Columbia

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Land and Food Systems



How to Cite

Rotz, S., Xavier, A., & Robin, T. (2023). “It wasn’t built for us”: The possibility of Indigenous food sovereignty in settler colonial food bureaucracies. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(3), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2023.123.009