A Look Inside the Largest and Longest Study of First Nations Food, Nutrition, and Environmental Research in Canada

The First Nations Food Nutrition & Environment Study (FNFNES) was a 10-year project that examined the food and diet in 100 randomly selected First Nations in 10 provinces across Canada. There were five key components of this study: testing tap water for trace metals; sampling surface water for pharmaceuticals; traditional food testing for chemicals, essential nutrients, and vitamins; testing levels of mercury in hair; and conducting household interviews about health, lifestyle, and food security.

Hairsampling. Photo by Karen Fediuk.
Hairsampling. Photo by Karen Fediuk.


Our Senior Researcher and Registered Dietitian, Karen Fediuk, has been a part of FNFNES from the very beginning, taking on a number of different roles and working hard to bring this study to life. Recently, we chatted with Fediuk to get a first-hand scoop on the largest nutrition, food security and food safety study conducted with First Nations in Canada to date!


Fediuk became involved in the study in 2007, after Dr. Laurie Chan approached her about assisting in the project as a researcher. But where did the idea for the study come from?

Community Garden in Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation. Photo by Stephanie Levesque.
Community Garden in Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation. Photo by Stephanie Levesque.


FNFNES was initiated through a resolution passed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly at the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) Annual General Assembly in Halifax, Nova Scotia on July 12, 2007.


Fediuk indicated that FNFNES emerged out of concerns about the unknown impacts of environmental pollution and a data gap about the dietary patterns, nutrition and potential exposure to contaminants among First Nations. She explained, “…back in the ’90s, there was the Northern Contaminants Program that gave us a sense of what was happening in the Yukon, and in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut about the transport of contaminants and how those were entering the environment and impacting traditional food systems, but we didn’t have a good sense of what was happening south of what we call the 60th parallel [a circle of latitude 60 degrees north of the earth’s equator that runs between Canada’s provinces and territories]…”. The existing National Nutrition Surveys and Total Diet Studies, which examined eating patterns and the safety of store-bought foods for the population in Canada, excluded Indigenous peoples living on reserve.


The primary investigators for the project included: Laurie Chan from University of Ottawa, Malek Batal from University of Montreal and Tonio Sadik from the AFN. Funding for this project has been provided from First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada/Indigenous Services Canada.

Lac La Ronge, Smoking Fish. Photo by Rebecca Hare.
Lac La Ronge, Smoking Fish. Photo by Rebecca Hare.


FNFNES followed Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP®) principles. Prior to implementation , the AFN invited representatives of First Nations to a methodology workshop to review the study design and refine the data collection tools. FNFNES was then introduced to leadership and the wider community and formal Community Research Agreements were signed.

First Nation partners took a lead role in planning and implementation including recruitment of community research assistants to undertake interviews and food, hair, and water sampling.


After the data collected was analysed, researchers returned to the communities to verify results and gather feedback to incorporate into community and regional reports. Subsequently, regional training workshops were delivered to officially transfer community data back and provide hands-on training for data analyses and interpretation. For many, the knowledge from the study was key, as it has given them a platform when writing proposals for grants and other major projects they are seeking for their community.

Household Survey Food Models. Photo by Suzanne Hajto.
Household Survey Food Models. Photo by Suzanne Hajto.


The research is now available to the public, but the project is not over. Fediuk indicated that work related to finalizing the study recommendations are ongoing. This study has opened the door for future projects and it looks like the next chapter for the group that put together FNFNES is a focus on the nutrition and health of children and youth in First Nations communities. In terms of what this means for our work at Firelight and the work of other Indigenous organizations, Fediuk says that we have a much stronger baseline to support future work on the environment and traditional food systems of Indigenous peoples. As for Fediuk’s final thoughts on the study, she said, “I’m grateful to have been involved in the study … it stems from my original concern as a young dietitian, about the large differences in wellbeing between various citizens living in Canada, … and I think that was really compelling for many of us to get involved in this project.”

For a summary of the study click here:


For more information, please visit: http://www.fnfnes.ca/ 

To access the full final report, click the following link: http://www.fnfnes.ca/docs/FNFNES_draft_technical_report_Nov_2__2019.pdf