Original Research

Promoting women’s well-being through the Niska (Goose) Harvesting Program in Subarctic Ontario, Canada


name here
Fatima Ahmed
1,2 PhD, Post Doctoral Researcher * ORCID logo

name here
Aleksandra Zuk
2,3 PhD, Assistant Professor

name here
Celine Sutherland

name here
Roger Davey

name here
Andrew Solomon
4 Project Coordinator

name here
Eric Liberda
5 PhD, Professor

name here
Leonard JS Tsuji
1,2 PhD, Professor


1 Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M1C 1A4, Canada

2 Department of Health and Society, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M1C 1A4, Canada

3 School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada

4 Fort Albany First Nation, Fort Albany, ON P0L 1H0, Canada

5 School of Occupation and Public Health, Faculty of Community Services, Toronto Metropolitan University, Toronto, ON M5B 2K3, Canada

ACCEPTED: 7 June 2024

early abstract:

Introduction: Geese harvesting is a longstanding cultural tradition deeply ingrained among the Omushkego Cree in Fort Albany First Nation, embodying a holistic approach to health that integrates Indigenous knowledge, community well-being, and resilience. Despite historical disruptions stemming from colonization and assimilation policies, women have played a pivotal role in preserving and passing down traditional practices. The significance of goose harvesting extends beyond providing a nutrient-rich and cost-effective food source; it serves as a vehicle for cultural preservation and education, particularly fostering language acquisition among children. Nevertheless, concerns persist regarding the potential decline in the transmission of Indigenous knowledge. The interruption of intergenerational knowledge transfer not only poses implications for overall well-being but also worsens historical trauma within the community. In response to these challenges, the Niska (goose) harvesting program was developed with an aim to revitalize community harvesting practices, with a specific focus on incorporating the perspectives of women, especially in the preparatory and smoking phases of the geese.
Methods: Omushkego Cree women were approached to participate. The study was conducted during the spring of 2018, and employed photovoice and semi-structured interviews that explored the impact of geese preparatory activities on the health and well-being of Indigenous women.
Results: Major themes from the qualitative data included the importance of knowledge sharing, cultural continuity, healing, and the profound connection to the land. Women emphasized the value of sharing acquired knowledge, passing on traditions, and maintaining a connection to their cultural identity. Cultural continuity, depicted through intergenerational teachings and experiences, emerged as crucial for overall well-being. Participants spoke of the healing dynamics derived from engaging in traditional activities, highlighting the positive impact on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The land was identified as a central element in this healing process, representing more than just a physical space but an extension of home, contributing to a sense of peace and tranquility. The land became a medium for transmitting cultural teachings, shaping identity, and sustaining a subsistence lifestyle.
Conclusion:  The study emphasizes the importance of future research including more female youth participants to uncover specific challenges and strengths within this demographic. Overall, the Niska program demonstrates a comprehensive approach that intertwines cultural revitalization, community engagement, and holistic well-being, emphasizing the need for interventions that go beyond immediate challenges to create enduring positive impacts on Indigenous communities.
Keywords: Indigenous knowledge, First Nations, well-being, goose harvesting, photovoice; wellness, Subarctic Canada, qualitative research