Student-led group tackles Indigenous food sovereignty

Learning Spirit Alliance workshop group photo

After personally experiencing food insecurity, and witnessing its effects first-hand, a group of York University Faculty of Health students decided to do something about it.

The Learning Spirit Alliance is an Indigenous student-led group, open to all York students, committed to educating the community about food sovereignty and helping to prevent poverty and food insecurity on campus. Led by current students Leo Manning and Rainingbird Daniels, and former student Shanice Perrot, the initiative was established as a result of discussions with Indigenous students about access to food – particularly healthy and traditional food, and especially for students who had moved away from home.

“Members of our leadership team have personally experienced the effects of food insecurity and lack of food access throughout their time in post-secondary education,” explains Daniels. “There are many Indigenous students facing the increasingly high cost of housing both on and off campus; required meal plans at institutions and/or inflation of food costs; transportation costs associated with travelling home; and a lack of sufficient funding while completing post-secondary education.”

Launched last year with funding from a national organization called Indigenous Youth Roots, the Learning Spirit Alliance held three Food is Medicine workshops this semester, where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students were welcomed at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig – the gathering space for York’s Indigenous community – and taught how to make traditional Indigenous foods such as elk stew, bannock, three sisters salad and various soups. Each participant was also given an honorarium towards groceries.

According to Daniels, the feedback received from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The different dishes we learned to make gave me the knowledge to make affordable and healthy meals while in residence and away from my traditional territory,” said workshop participant and York student Doreen Scow.

“The workshop helped me feel more culturally involved and connected,” said another participant, student Miigwan Mainville. “This initiative allows us to share stories and laughter with others while sharing cultural food; food is truly medicine.”  

In addition to the workshops, the Alliance held weekly free lunch events for the community, to help bring more traditional and nutritious meals to students in need.

With no plans currently in place for the next academic year, the group’s leadership is using its resources to apply for more grants in hopes that they can continue to host events and workshops on culturally relevant food and food sovereignty, giving Indigenous students the tools they need to cook at home at a low cost.

“We are striving to make a difference in ways that strengthen community and provide relief,” said Manning.

To learn more about this initiative and its future events, follow the Learning Spirit Alliance on Instagram or email