Community-driven decisions

In Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, new and expecting mothers are being offered the chance to gather and prepare healthy food for themselves and their babies.

The Dene community is in northeastern Alberta, about 120 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, and the nearest grocery store is an hour and a half away by car.

Donghoon Kim works as the brighter futures initiatives coordinator for the nation’s health center. Having lived in the community for five years, he noticed how difficult it was for mothers to leave home with newborns to make the long drive to the grocery store.

“They were not really getting sufficient nutrition for their meals,” he explains. “So we decided to focus on moms first—because who is going to support our children if moms are not supported?”

Donghoon and his team offered moms the opportunity to gather food from the garden in the health centre’s backyard. Then, the centre ran a program specifically for pre- and post-natal women, providing cooking classes to transform the fresh ingredients into healthy baby food.

In 2019, the crop included fruits from berry bushes and a variety of seasonal vegetables. The women harvested the foods they liked best (spinach and tomatoes were the biggest hits), and then were asked which recipes they’d like to try.

Donghoon says the most important thing is to make sure the program attendees are the ones driving the decision-making.

“We put questions to the community and collected their ideas,” says Donghoon. “I work for the community, but that doesn’t mean I can lead them with my decisions. If they need a service, they ask for the service, then we provide. That’s the best way to run the program.”

Using this collaborative approach, the pre- and post-natal program developed a recipe book for baby foods based on what the community wanted to make. Many women gathered to cook those foods at the health centre and brought them home to their families.

The program now also includes parenting classes, which are also based on topics identified by the community.

As residents are encouraged to take ownership and offered opportunities to lead, curiosity and interest build, leading to more involvement in the health center’s programs. This success is based on a social environment where individuals feel encouraged and empowered to make healthy decisions. This earned the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation a Communities ChooseWell Creating Supportive Environments award in the fall of 2019.

Now, Donghoon is planning ways to further support other groups in the community.

“This is just the beginning,” he says. “My title is brighter futures coordinator, which makes me think of our children and youth, who are the future of this community. I want to support them as they look forward and move forward.”