Women powering the movement | Rebecca Sylvestre

Thursday, March 8, 2018

“Food brings people, and people bring ideas, and ideas bring strength to our communities.

Rebecca Sylvestre
Community Advocate, Birch Narrows Dene Nation, SK


Living in Birch Narrows in northern Saskatchewan, raising a daughter while she went to school and worked various jobs, Rebecca Sylvestre too often had to rely on the generally nutrient-poor, processed food available on the reserve. Too rarely did they get fresh fruit or vegetables or good meat. “When she was growing up,” Rebecca says of her now 15-year-old daughter, “she was overweight, because of all the unhealthy food I was feeding her. Now we have programs where we can learn to cook healthier meals, but we’re still limited to the foods available at our stores.”

But Rebecca had also been around food her whole life. Her grandmother had taught her to dress duck and rabbit, her mother moose; she’d worked frequently as a cook, once at the Rabbit Lake mine. She knew there was a different, better, way.

So she started organizing hunting trips for kids around her community, as well as trips for other hunters further south where there’s a bit less wilderness and moose are easier to find. She hired hunters, brought along elders, and got the Birch Narrows Chief and Council to approve and pay for the trips. Later, she applied for grants to cover the costs of the hunting trips, and she started to receive them. She didn’t stop there. With other grant money, she built community gardens, including one in her own backyard, bursting with potatoes and carrots. Compelled to travel south a couple times a month (her adopted son has health problems and requires hospital treatment), she always returns with fresh produce she freezes and then donates. She’s now using a grant from Community Food Centres Canada to consult with the Birch Narrows community about creating a welcoming space where people can come together around food.

"When communities gather around food and prepare it themselves, relationships build," Rebecca says. "Friendships are made and knowledge is gained—through preparing meals, you discover new ingredients and recipes. Food brings people and people bring ideas and ideas bring strength to our communities."

On the first hunting trip she organized, there were just six kids. On the last one in late February, there were 39, ranging in age from 9 to 17. After each trip, these novice hunters sometimes get lucky and return with a moose, whose meat gets distributed among the children’s families. The effect of the experience, plus the additional nourishment, has had a transformative effect, Rebecca says—on the community and herself. “I see more kids going to school,” she says. “I see a lot of kids reaching out. Older kids showing younger kids what they’ve learned, being role models. My dad always tells me, ‘These kids will always remember you for everything you do.’”

Throughout March, International Women's History Month, we are highlighting some of the amazing women who power the movement for good food. Our movement, our organizations, and our communities are so often lead by women and we want to celebrate their stories and contributions.
Sign up for The Feed, our newsletter, to hear more about how communities are powering up through food. 
Check out some of the other amazing women powering the food movement

Gillian Flies in Creemore, Ontario
Renée MacKillop in Calgary, Alberta
Amanda Nickerson in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Barb Wong in Vancouver, British Columbia

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