Chaire de Recherche du Canada en Foresterie Autochtone, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 boul. de l'Université, Rouyn-Noranda, Québec J9X 5E4, Canada; Chaire Industrielle CRSNG-UQAT-UQÀM en Aménagement Forestier Durable, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 boul. de l'Université, Rouyn-Noranda, Québec J9X 5E4, Canada. Electronic address: Serge.Bordeleau@uqat.ca.
Food insecurity is a growing concern for indigenous communities worldwide. While the risk of heavy metal contamination associated to wild food consumption has been extensively studied in the Arctic, data are scarce for the Boreal zone. This study addressed the concerns over possible heavy metal exposure through consumption of traditional food in four Anishnaabeg communities living in the Eastern North American boreal forest. Liver and meat samples were obtained from 196 snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) trapped during winter 2012 across the traditional lands of the participating communities and within 56-156km of a copper smelter. Interviews were conducted with 78 household heads to assess traditional food habits, focusing on snowshoe hare consumption. Concentrations in most meat and liver samples were below the detection limit for As, Co, Cr, Ni and Pb. Very few meat samples had detectable Cd and Hg concentrations, but liver samples had mean dry weight concentrations of 3.79mg/kg and 0.15mg/kg respectively. Distance and orientation from the smelter did not explain the variability between samples, but percent deciduous and mixed forest cover had a marginal negative effect on liver Cd, Cu and Zn concentrations. The estimated exposition risk from snowshoe hare consumption was low, although heavy consumers could slightly exceed recommended Hg doses. In accordance with the holistic perspective commonly adopted by indigenous people, the nutritional and sociocultural importance of traditional food must be considered in risk assessment. Traditional food plays a significant role in reducing and preventing serious health issues disproportionately affecting First Nations, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.