Professor Adrianne Xavier about research, Indigenous food security and increasing dialogue and awareness at McMaster

Featured Photo C/O: McMaster University

As an outspoken advocate for the voices of Indigenous people in her Six Nations community  and on campus, Adrianne Xavier is serving as the acting director of the Indigenous studies and anthropology department. A part of McMaster University since 2019, Xavier recently defended her dissertation on Indigenous food security and food sovereignty at Six Nations, her home community.  

Xavier served as the recipient of the Indigenous In-Community Scholar Fellowship in 2020 and this year received the Petro-Canada McMaster University Young Innovators award for her work on community building and her efforts to mentor students to engage with the research process. 

According to Xavier, community building has two components: building community with a research project and building community within any given group. She is a firm believer that community and health research go far beyond the formalities of methodology and the true spirit of research. Especially within Indigenous communities, lies in building a positive relationship with its inhabitants and leaders. 

Photo Caption: Adrianne Xavier pictured beside colleague Dilyana Mincheva as a recipient of the Petro-Canada McMaster University Young Innovators award

Photo C/O: McMaster University

“I’m allowing the students to design what would theoretically be the pieces of a research project and what actions you must take to do real and whole Indigenous research. I want my students to know that there must be clear communication and understanding between them as researchers and the community they are engaging with,” explained Xavier.  

Students under Xavier are working together to build relationships with each other and with fellow researchers regarding how to engage in the community of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous services. Xavier intends for this process to be a safe space for student researchers to learn how to ask questions — such as how to interact productively with Indigenous communities — and how to find sustainable solutions within the community itself. 

Xavier emphasizes relationship building to her student researchers, given that as outsiders, many researchers are unable to assess the needs of Indigenous communities and in turn produce research and subsequent solutions that are not reflective of the community’s circumstances.  

“As an individual, I know that the history of research with Indigenous communities has been very impersonal and the direction of research is often driven by researchers’ desires and interests’ and not the communities who should always be the central focus,” 

Dr. Adrianne Xavier

Xavier’s research area of focus is Indigenous food security, food sovereignty and food as it relates to land repatriation. She promotes an understanding of food security and food sovereignty as the appropriate cultural access to healthy and sufficient food. Xavier is careful to draw the distinction between security and sovereignty; however, as food sovereignty does not always equate to food security, given that having enough food is different from being empowered enough to have the choice of choosing cultural foods. Similarly, food sovereignty cannot happen without food security, as if one has just technically had enough food does not equate to having the capability to decide one’s diet.  

“Just having enough food to eat is not enough. Food must be personally fulfilling alongside being physically nourishing. Caloric intake is therefore not the only criteria for nourishment,” explained Xavier.  

When she talks about Indigenous food sovereignty, Xavier is referring to the conversation of relationships: where do we get this food from, do we have agency to choose that relationship. A person who has enough money may not have food sovereignty if they are not able to make choices about their food. 

During her time running a food sovereignty program with her mother, Xavier observed that despite teaching community members how to grow and preserve their own food, it was not always feasible for people to be able to do so. 

Photo C/O: Megan Thomas, Unsplash 

“I live in a community where there is no grocery store. I have to travel to other towns to get groceries. For me to have food sovereignty myself, I would have to choose the foods that I would like to have that are both culturally relevant, personally fulfilling and physically fulfilling within my community. I’m still unable to do that,” said Xavier. 

True to her vision of Indigenizing solutions to community issues, Xavier is determined to center Indigenous perspectives on how to address Indigenous issues. Through her work with ISP, Xavier is actively working to expand Indigenous studies at McMaster by hiring new Indigenous faculty, with the goal of guiding her program towards becoming a department.  

“As a university, I’m very fortunate McMaster is very supportive of me presenting my way of thinking in the classroom. I have felt welcome, I have felt supported and I will do the same for others,” said Xavier. 

However, given the traditionally discriminatory policies of Canadian universities towards Indigenous peoples and the dismissive nature of academia to traditional knowledge, Xavier has found the settings of Western academia and it’s approaches to her teachings to not always be compatible. To combat this disparity, Xavier strongly advocates for the addition of Indigenous scholars in every department, as there are no facets of knowledge in the university where Indigenous ways of knowing are not present. 

“We have our own understanding of the sciences, math, astronomy, religion, food, study, nature and the climate. Our way of knowing the world is crucial to building a more concrete understanding of these subjects,” explained Xavier.  

While McMaster continues to open itself up to be mindful and welcoming of Indigenous knowledge, for new Indigenous students, faculty and staff, Xavier stresses that at Mac, there are opportunities to grow and have a strong community where Indigenous knowledge and lives are welcome.  

“One of the reasons why I felt so embraced by the university is because of how much Indigenous women are leading the way at McMaster, many of whom are women I know. The placements of Dr. [Allan] Downing, Dr. Tracey Bear are milestones. This is a huge testament to Mac’s ability to bring in Indigenous women,” said Xavier.  

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