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Culture and the social-ecology of local food use by Indigenous communities in northern North America

Roxanne Tremblay, Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, McGill University
Manuelle Landry-Cuerrier, Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, McGill University
Murray M. Humphries, Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, McGill University


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Social-ecological and biocultural systems connect people to their environment at the intersection of nature and culture. The harvest of local wildlife for human consumption is critically important to the food security of the world’s Indigenous peoples and to the conservation of biodiversity, either as a driver of biodiversity loss or of biodiversity protection, depending on system properties. By their nature, local food systems are assumed to be both ecologically determined and culturally defined. Here, we analyze standardized local food consumption surveys conducted in 21 Indigenous communities across northern North America. Using measures of dietary similarity from the ecological sciences and a variance partitioning statistical approach, we reveal a profound and prevailing importance of culture in defining the types and amounts of animal species consumed as food, operating within the environmental constraint of local availability. This quantitative, multicommunity analysis reveals the sustainability and cultural agency inherent in local food systems and the importance of cultural-ecological coupling in an era of accelerating social and environmental change.

Key words

biodiversity; country food; cultural diversity; food systems; Indigenous peoples; traditional food; trophic niche

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087