• Atlantic-IMN Students

Exploring stories of accessing food among Indigenous Peoples living with HIV/AIDS in Nova Scotia

This blog post is written by Chelsey Purdy, Master of Science (Applied Human Nutrition) Student at Mount Saint Vincent University.


My name is Chelsey Purdy, I am a Master of Science Student at Mount Saint Vincent University studying in the department of Applied Human Nutrition. I’m also a member of Acadia First Nation, having grown up in the Kespuwick District (the South Shore) in Nova Scotia, specifically Liverpool and Yarmouth. Coming into the MSc program, I knew I wanted to continue working with Mi’kmaw communities and that I wanted to honour and learn more about traditional approaches to knowledge sharing/research with a focus on food access. In this blog post I hope to share more about my project and the journey that brought me to it.


Over the past year as I have begun my MSc program (partially funded by the Atlantic-IMN’s Kausattumi Grant Program), relationships between Mi’kmaq and food have been a focal point of public discussion. Much of this discussion has been in relation to communities launching of self-governed fisheries based on the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood. More recently, the uncovering of burial sites at residential schools across Canada has prompted the re-telling of residential school stories, including those of nutritional experimentation, hunger, and purposeful cultural elimination. These stories and public discussions have highlighted the barriers that Mi’kmaq (and other First Nation groups) face, not only in participating in modern-day market-based food systems (e.g. fisheries), but in accessing traditional foods and associated cultural practices. These experiences (historical and ongoing) shape the current circumstances for Indigenous peoples when it comes to accessing food. Between 2017 and 2018, 28.2% of Indigenous households in Canada experienced food insecurity, compared to only 11.1% of white households. In addition to this, there is a direct link between the inequities experienced by Indigenous communities and increased risk of chronic and infectious disease, including HIV/AIDS.


This brings me to the topic of my MSc project, which aims to understand the stories of accessing food among Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS in Nova Scotia. Food insecurity for people living with HIV/AIDS means worsened health outcomes, including increased risk of infection, immunological decline, and shorter survival time. This is partially related to the increased nutrition requirements that increase risk of malnutrition. This, paired with the inequities experiences by Indigenous people, makes food policy and programming to support people living with HIV/AIDS an important area of research to ensure people get the food they want and need.

For this project, I will be working with my co-supervisors (Dr. Shannan Grant and Dr. Phillip Joy) and Healing Our Nations (the only HIV/AIDS service organization serving 33 First Nations and the off-reserve population in the 4 Atlantic Provinces). We will be working with Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS in Nova Scotia to do a photovoice project. This means participants will take photos to answer the research question, later providing context/stories associated with them at a sharing session. Participants will be asked to photograph representations of past, present, and future access to food for their communities, and will later be invited to show their work at an art gallery open to the community. I chose this approach for my project because it centers the voices and stories of participants. Stories (personal and otherwise) are foundational to Indigenous education and knowledge sharing. They offer an opportunity for the listener (and in this case, the viewer) to deconstruct and reflect on meaning and hopefully make a connection with their own lives and experiences. In this way the stories and photos that come from this project offer an opportunity for public education through the voices, perspectives, and ideas of participants.


I’m genuinely looking forward to working on this project over the coming year and hope that you will join us in the spring of 2022 for our art gallery.





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