FAO in North America

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Alexandra Bugailiskis on North American Indigenous Peoples' Food Systems


As Chair of the informal Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples in Rome, and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the FAO, I welcome the close collaboration between the FAO Liaison Office for North America in Washington D.C. under the leadership of its Director, Vimlendra Sharan, and the FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit, which great work is guided by the commitment of Yon Fernandez-de-Larrinoa, to expand and strengthen dialogues with Indigenous peoples of North America. Focusing in particular on Indigenous peoples’ food systems, the Global Indigenous Women’s Empowerment Campaign for Zero Hunger and the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, this proactive regional engagement with North American Indigenous experts, researchers, scientists, academics, organizations, representative bodies and partnering government agencies is timely and of critical importance. I look forward to hearing the outputs from the “High-Level Seminar on North American Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, towards the UN Food Systems Summit” taking place at the end of October.

Launched in November 2019 to provide a venue for collective discussion and action in support of Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and food systems, the informal Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples in Rome has benefitted from strong and growing cross-regional participation. I am very pleased with the active support of representatives from all seven FAO regional groups. From the outset, it was very important for the members of the Friends group that we do not speak for or on behalf of Indigenous peoples, but that we create space for them to be listened to and engaged with, and actively advocate for their presence and participation in the discussions and decisions that affect their lives and communities. Little did we know then that we would soon be facing a global pandemic that would disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples, exacerbate their unique vulnerabilities and further expose disparate realities throughout the world.

While Canada has taken a renewed nation-to-nation approach to our relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership, we acknowledge that this remains a work in progress. We are conscious of the mistakes we have made in the past but are hopeful. We also recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Métis are among the most vulnerable in our country during the COVID-19 crisis, including as a result of higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of access to clean drinking water in many Indigenous communities, high levels of overcrowding, living in intergenerational households and the isolation of many remote and fly-in communities. Northern and Arctic communities are particularly vulnerable, and Inuit are a high-risk group in general for respiratory infections. We know that Indigenous peoples and women are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, with Indigenous peoples in Canada being three to five times more likely to be food insecure than non-Indigenous Canadians. Food insecurity is also a critical issue for Arctic and Northern peoples. It is important to identify best practices for increasing the region’s food production in support of enhanced food security, as called for in Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework released in September 2019.

In Canada, we are recognizing these realities and challenges and dedicating additional resources to improve outcomes for Indigenous communities, providing them with the flexibility they need to address their specific needs, and enabling Indigenous peoples to make the choices that work for their communities. I acknowledge with immense respect the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples who are providing medical care and food, and mobilizing resources in Indigenous communities during these unprecedented times. Indigenous communities have shown remarkable strength and resiliency. First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada have enacted measures and turned to traditional ways of thinking and doing, and risen to the challenge to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Indigenous peoples continue to face tremendous gaps in many areas such as food security, access to health, and economic security. As we strive to build back better more inclusive and resilient societies in a post-COVID world, in the face of climate change and in the lead-up to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples in Rome remains committed to creating opportunities to ensure that Indigenous peoples are represented at the table, that their voices are heard strongly as issues are identified, suggestions are brought forward and solutions are created.  

H.E. Ambassador Alexandra Bugailiskis

H.E. Ambassador Alexandra Bugailiskis is Canada’s Ambassador to the Italian Republic, as well as Permanent Representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Ambassador Bugailiskis has served abroad as Ambassador to Syria and High Commissioner to Cyprus, ambassador to Cuba and Poland. In Ottawa, Ms. Bugailiskis has held a number of senior positions. In August 2017, Alexandra Bugailiskis was appointed as Canada’s Ambassador to the Italian Republic, as well as Permanent Representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, with concurrent accreditation as Ambassador to the Republic of San Marino and Albania and High Commissioner to Malta.