Helping First Nations return to healthy, traditional food

Much of Moneca Sinclaire’s work has focused on developing creative ways to explain the effects of diabetes to adult learners with little scientific knowledge.
Photo by Ian McCausland.

Eighty-five per cent of Moneca Sinclaire’s first cousins have Type 2 Diabetes.

Moneca, a Cree from Northern Manitoba, discovered the alarming rate of the disease when she made a family tree tracking diabetes during a Native Health and Medicines course at the University of Manitoba in the 1980s. These shocking results clinched her decision to pursue a career where she could work with people and healthy food.

Her 30-year career has taken her many directions – she’s worked as a sessional instructor and student adviser at University of Manitoba, a community nutritionist and researcher for Health Canada and co-coordinator of Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance, to name just a few.

“Throughout I have always worked in food and nutrition and the historical impact of our changing diet,” she says.

Much of her work has focused on creative ways of explaining effects of diabetes to adult learners, many of whom have little scientific knowledge. For example, she’ll mix varying amounts of sugar into tomato juice and push the mixtures through tubing to illustrate how increased sugar slows blood flow.

Many of her presentations also focus on how European contact, treaties and residential schools have impacted foods traditionally consumed by Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Aboriginal lifestyles were traditionally based on hunting, fishing and gathering, Moneca explains. Food was highly respected and shared, and was viewed as having spiritual and medicinal components.

Since then, diets have seen an increase in sugar, salt, fat, refined grains, processed meats and high-fat dairy. According to Health Canada, First Nations on reserve have a rate of diabetes three to five times higher than that of other Canadians.

“It makes me sad that a lot of our traditions are being lost because there is so much change… but it also gives me hope that people will try to nurture change.”

She hopes explaining why traditional foods have changed will help Aboriginal people reconnect with healthy food.

“To me all I’m doing is seed-planting…. It’s not our fault that our food has changed; there has to be a way that we can get back to a healthy way of living.”

To read more Stories of Food in Winnipeg, click here.

Stacy Cardigan Smith


Communications Specialist with The Winnipeg Foundation, Community News Commons Editor, mom of two, health enthusiast, West End resident, cat lover and generally cheery gal.