Race, Food, and Borders: Situating Migrant Struggle in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

  • Elise Hjalmarson The University of British Columbia
  • Robyn Bunn The University of British Columbia
  • Amy Cohen Okanagan College
  • Edna Terbasket Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society
  • Levi Gahman The University of the West Indies
Keywords: Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, Migrant Labor, Racism, Settler Colonialism, Food Systems, Okanagan Valley

Abstract

Over the past century, the Okanagan Valley's social, economic, and physical landscape has been largely shaped by the region's agricultural industry. Within this landscape migrant farmworkers have an essential role, yet are rendered invisible and remain marginalized. This commentary explores migrants' struggle by looking at the intersections of colonialism, race, borders, and the local food economy. We begin with a historical examination of the racialized nature of the region's agricultural labor force, and also provide an overview of the local food economy. Following this, we outline Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and discuss how the SAWP places migrant laborers in positions of precarity, often resulting in worker isolation and superexploitation. We then turn to the social conditions migrant workers encounter upon arriving in the Okanagan Valley by describing the institutional discrimination they face, as well as the everyday prejudices and aggressions they endure due to their status of being labeled both "foreign" and "temporary." Next we provide a brief explanation of settler colonialism, the imposition of borders, and the common struggles shared by migrant workers and Aboriginal people. Finally, we offer some recommendations for change that would ameliorate some of the challenges migrant workers experience upon arriving in the Okanagan.

Author Biographies

Elise Hjalmarson, The University of British Columbia
Master's Candidate, Political Studies, The University of British Columbia, Okanagan; Co-founder, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture.
Robyn Bunn, The University of British Columbia
PhD Student, Interdisciplinary Studies, The University of British Columbia, Okanagan; Organizer, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture.
Amy Cohen, Okanagan College
Professor of Anthropology, Okanagan College, British Columbia; Co-founder, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture.
Edna Terbasket, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society
Executive Director, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, Kelowna, British Columbia.
Levi Gahman, The University of the West Indies
Lecturer, Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Department of Geography, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus; Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Published
2015-07-30
How to Cite
Hjalmarson, E., Bunn, R., Cohen, A., Terbasket, E., & Gahman, L. (2015). Race, Food, and Borders: Situating Migrant Struggle in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(4), 77-82. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2015.054.007