Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is seeking to establish school meal programs in Nunavut and across Inuit Nunangat.

The organization, which advocates for Inuit health and well-being, is looking for someone to put together a proposal, applicable from kindergarten to Grade 12, that can be presented to the federal and territorial governments and other potential funding partners.

“School-based food programs offer a promising strategy to improve children’s access to healthy and culturally preferred foods while supporting long-term benefits to health and well-being,” Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) states.

The proposal research and writing process is expected to begin in December and conclude in June 2022.

ITK is relying on the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey — which revealed that 76 per cent of Inuit aged 15 years and older are food insecure — as evidence of how widespread the problem is. The organization said that that survey data is the most recent measure of food insecurity among Inuit in Nunavut. However, a Inuit Health Survey is expected to be released in the near future and that will include data on how broadly a lack of nutritious food affects school-aged children.

The Inuit organization acknowledged that numerous food initiatives already exist in schools and communities, playing an “important role,” but the intent of this new initiative is to create a business case for adequate and sustainable funding.

During the term of the last legislative assembly, MLAs Adam Lightstone and John Main repeatedly called on the Nunavut Department of Education to formally establish territory-wide school breakfast and lunch programs.

The department noted that communities can apply for funding for a school food program through the Government of Nunavut’s Community Wellness Plan, which carries a yearly budget of $1.5 million to $2 million.

All Nunavut schools have a food program, but not all are inclusive of lunch, the department stated recently. In 2019, a government document stated that it would cost $400 per student, per year — or a total of nearly $4 million to provide lunches at every territorial school.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic developed, the Department of Education stated that it, along with the chief public health officer, has “strongly encourage(d) the continued operation of food programs provided in schools to support student health and well-being.”

Certain safety guidelines were recommended in light of the virus, such as having designated staff prepare and hand out the food, wrapping food items individually, emphasizing hygiene and that food and drinks should not be shared among students and encouraging students to bring their own reusable water bottles.

“The Department of Education recognizes the importance of food programs in schools to help alleviate food insecurity in our communities,” it stated. “While food programs are not funded or operated by the Department of Education, we recognize that many school staff volunteer their time and effort to run food programs out of our 45 schools. Food programs in schools ensure that all students’ needs are met depending on the available capacity and resources in the community.”

The Government of Canada created the Inuit-Crown Food Security Working Group in 2018 to address food security in Inuit Nunangat. From that, the Harvesters Support Grant was turned over directly to Inuit land claims organizations to provide financial support for harvesting activities. In addition, Indigenous Services Canada provided $8 million in funding for food initiatives during the Covid-19 pandemic through the four Inuit land claims organizations in Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Inuvialuit. This included meal delivery services, increased on-the-land supports, supplemental country food storage and market food vouchers, among others, according to ITK.

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