Kanesatake students talk about nutrition and body image

·4 min read

Each month since the start of the school year, the students at Ratihen:te High School have been learning about very important topics that impact their everyday lives. Everything from residential schools to LGBTQ2S+ issues to abuse and addictions.

The initiative, Prevention Months, was started by Liza McLaughlin, a special education technician at the high school.

“Each month, I cover a specific topic in order to raise awareness and educate the kids about it,” said McLaughlin.

This month the students have been learning about nutrition and its many aspects.

“I have been doing a nutrition month for the past five years, but each year it takes a different shape depending on what has been going on in the media, in our schools and in our communities,” she said.

The special education technician explained that there had been a notable increase in eating disorders across the country since the pandemic began.

“Body image is very vulnerable right now, and that is the root of eating disorders, so questions like ‘How do you see yourself?’ and ‘How or why do you compare yourself to others?’ need to be explored,” said McLaughlin.

As part of nutrition month, McLaughlin also put up posters and signs outside of her classroom with information about eating disorders and prevention. She also included a definition board that explains what an eating disorder is, what anorexia and bulimia are, what binge eating is, and examples of diet culture and body diversity.

“How do we recognize, define and fight diet culture? I also posted statistics and information on how to support someone with an eating disorder,” said the special education technician.

“Then we talked about body image and how images are altered and manipulated to make you feel insecure. In terms of prevention, we will also be doing a written forum.”

Through this written forum, students explored the effects of media, specifically social media, on body image and diet culture.

“When you look at representation of First Nations women and men in the media, you don’t see very much of the culture on social media, movies, or television - and they are constantly exposed to that stuff,” she added.

So, without proper representation, youth are then left to compare themselves to unattainable standards like the quintessential skinny white woman, for example.

Additionally, because of social media influencers and product peddling, youth often feel pressured to buy that product that will make them beautiful or to work out every single day to be skinny.

“There is that misrepresentation of health and what it should look like, and anybody who doesn’t fit into that mould doesn’t belong,” said McLaughlin.

“We are trying to make them realize that other moulds exist and that you don’t have to fit into any mould. You just have to be comfortable with yourself and make other people around you feel comfortable.”

A major component of nutrition for Indigenous Peoples also lies in food sovereignty and food decolonization.

Karyn Murray, the eco-agriculture officer at Skátne Ronatehiaróntie (Growing Together), was invited to host a workshop on food security and eating local at the school.

“Food sovereignty is a hot topic, and it’s time to build on that. I also want to talk to them about the soil content. The human body is made up of the same nutrients that you will find on the Earth,” said Murray.

Skátne Ronatehiaróntie first started out as the Garden of Hope in 2020 and grew into an initiative last year with the help of Kanesatake Economic and Business Development.

“I want people to start making a connection between the food that they eat and the elements that we need inside of our bodies rather than going to petroleum-based vitamins and supplements and stuff like that.”

She explained that agriculture brings people together and through the different workshops offered at Skátne Ronatehiaróntie, reconciliation is possible.

“Our people have always lived with agriculture. We have come up with systems of working together, such as the three sisters. Also, I found my personal healing with my hands in the dirt. It’s about generative agriculture,” said Murray.


Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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