Delegates from across the Qikiqtani region met at the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre in Iqaluit earlier this month to discuss solutions to food insecurity and dependency in the North.

At an event billed as Niriqatigiit: Coming Together to Eat, the roundtable’s goal is to “kickstart a food sovereignty movement.”

On Sept. 6, Sheldon Nimchuk, director of project development and partnership at Qikiqtani Business Development Corporation (QBDC), opened the discussion by explaining the funding plan. Financing would be available for hunters and trappers organizations to support small-scale food processing equipment, events and roundtables and a public contest around food sovereignty.

The goal, continued Nimchuk, is to “find out what’s the best way to use the funding we have based on each community’s needs. We have a plan but we’re really only here to listen.”

Blueprints for a possible country foods processing facility were shared with the delegates as an incentive to advance discussions and to get the communities’ input.

Harry Alookie, mayor of Qikiqtarjuaq, is interested in the facility for his community and he noted, “It really doesn’t have to be too big — every community would need to have harvesting quotas. We have to think of the land too.”

David Naqitarvik, a member of Arctic Bay Hamlet Council, added, “We need better management of our current infrastructure; we need more local people being trained to run them.”

Roger Beaudry, in charge of economic development for the Hamlet of Sanirajak, worries about smaller communities’ access to the investments brought to the table.

“Are smaller communities going to be left out of the equation like we usually are?” Beaudry asked the room.

The conversation then revolved around various challenges the communities are facing.

“The inflation rate is very significant — the hunters’ pays are never adequate for their expenses anymore,” said Naqitarvik.

Training to make repairs

David Qamaniq, with Pond Inlet’s HTO, said, “People in communities need to be trained to fix the new computerized engines for our boats and Ski-Doos. We need garages but also the knowledge new engines require to be fixed.”

Itee Temela, representing Kimmirut, stated, “We’ve had problems with essential positions managers leaving the community with no one to replace them.”

Neil Kigutaq, with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), said, “What we notice is a need for hunting gear — harpoons, harpoon heads, quality ropes — motors and other mechanic pieces, and specific quality brands of Ski-Doos that last, which are often not available.”

Together, the roundtable concluded the main challenges to create an economically self-sufficient Arctic were better infrastructures and harvesting equipment, but also better strategies to sustain essential jobs and support from governments and businesses operating in the communities.

Arctic Fresh, an Iglulik-based venture that started as e-commerce, bringing more affordable food for the community since 2015, was next on stage. Michael Doyle, representative for the award-winning company, presented its plan to subdivide the business into three new divisions: fighting food insecurity, building local capacity and aviation.

“We have already started purchasing some homes to renovate and create more housing opportunities in Iglulik, and that is just the beginning,” he said.

The company’s goal is to build food processing facilities.

“We estimate every hub could cost less than a million dollars to build,” said Doyle.

As for the aviation division of the company, the vision came from costly and limited airline services in the North.

“I would need to ship a ton of meat per week down south if I were to make any profit using the airline currently available, which is unrealistic. There’s not remotely enough freezers in our airports to move all of our products down even if the air freight was reasonable either,” explained Nathan Jewett, country food producer at Sedna’s Lair in Iqaluit.

‘A lot of opportunities’

Qikiqtaaluk Corporation Fisheries Division representative and marine biologist Jesslene Jawanda also took part in the conference, recapping the work that the corporation has been doing. Jawanda demonstrated the opportunity for a variety of sea food harvesting options by showing the room sea floor video footage the organization has collected.

“There are a lot of opportunities: sea cucumbers, scallops, shrimps, clams, mussels, sea urchins and even crabs. The best part is, there are international markets for all of those, the demand is there,” the marine biologist said.

Sonny Gray, CEO of Northstar Agriculture, also brought ideas to help reach the objective of food sovereignty in the Qikiqtani region. He proposed indoor farming, low-tech equipment, modular processing facilities, reproducible livestock, value-added products, soil production, renewable energies, community food storage options and integrated farm energy systems, such as reusing CO2 to increase plants productivity.

He also highlighted the importance of key concepts in the management and development of communities: big-picture planning, using permaculture as a design approach, exploring circular economies and seeking partnering opportunities, when possible.

“I think a lot of problems and challenges you’re experiencing are not that complicated to fix,” said Gray. “Having these discussions is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The conference was hosted by the QBDC, in collaboration with the QIA and Qikiqtaaluk Corp. Group of Companies.

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