Plundering the North

A History of Settler Colonialism, Corporate Welfare, and Food Insecurity

Kristin Burnett (Author), Travis Hay (Author)


The manufacturing of a chronic food crisis

Food insecurity in the North is one of Canada’s most shameful public health and human rights crises. In Plundering the North, Kristin Burnett and Travis Hay examine the disturbing mechanics behind the origins of this crisis: state and corporate intervention in northern Indigenous foodways.

Despite claims to the contrary by governments, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), and the contemporary North West Company (NWC), the exorbitant cost of food in the North is neither a naturally occurring phenomenon nor the result of free-market forces. Rather, inflated food prices are the direct result of government policies and corporate monopolies. Using food as a lens to track the institutional presence of the Canadian state in the North, Burnett and Hay chart the social, economic, and political changes that have taken place in northern Ontario since the 1950s. They explore the roles of state food policy and the HBC and NWC in setting up, perpetuating, and profiting from food insecurity while undermining Indigenous food sovereignties and self-determination.

Plundering the North provides fresh insight into Canada’s settler colonial project by re-evaluating northern food policy and laying bare the governmental and corporate processes behind the chronic food insecurity experienced by northern Indigenous communities.


“Spanning the late nineteenth century to the current day, Plundering the North provides meticulous detail about the ways in which HBC and NWC operated as agents of the state’s settler-colonial ambitions while the state subsidized the processes and profits of those private corporations. This is a valuable, unique, and timely contribution.”

Elaine Power, Queen's University

"Plundering the North is a powerful and timely examination of a crucial issue. It’s a call to action, urging readers to reconsider prevailing narratives and work towards meaningful change in policies and societal attitudes. Burnett and Hay have provided an essential contribution to the discourse on Indigenous rights, corporate responsibility, and food justice in Northern Canada."

Nada Loughead, Canadian Cookbooks

"Well written and accessible for non‐specialists, Plundering the North should be read by scholars interested in Canadian colonialism, food (in)security in Indigenous communities, the history of the HBC, and the geography and political economy of the North. Unlike much academic writing about food insecurity in northern Indigenous communities, the authors pay significant attention to questions of power."

Warren Bernauer, Canadian Geographies


JW Dafoe Book Prize (2024)
Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize, Canadian Historical Association (2024)

About the Authors

Dr. Kristin Burnett is a professor in the Department of Indigenous Learning at Lakehead University. A settler scholar, Burnett has published broadly on topics related to Indigenous health and well-being, and much of her current research and policy work engages with systemic barriers to health care, social services and supports, and food.

Travis Hay is a historian of Canadian settler colonialism who was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He is currently an assistant professor at Mount Royal University, the author of Inventing the Thrifty Gene, and the English Language Book Review Editor of Canadian Journal of Health History.

Table of Contents


Chapter One
Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Food Sovereignty:
The Assault on Indigenous Hunting, Fishing, Trapping, and Trading

Chapter Two
Constructing Dependency: The Hudson’s Bay Company Before the Second World War

Chapter Three
“Making Proper Use”: The Family Allowance Program and Forced Purchasing Lists

Chapter Four
“Left at the Trader’s Mercy”: The HBC and the Northern Stores Department

Chapter Five
“Preferred Perishable Foods”: Origins and Outcomes of the Food Mail Program

Chapter Six
“We Blanket the North”: The Expansion of the NWC, 1987–2007

Chapter Seven
“Direct, Effective and Efficient”: Nutrition North Canada and
the Restructuring of Federal Food Subsidy Programs, 2008–2017





University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.