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National Indigenous board recommends progressive policy changes to improve food security in the North

After a year of consultations, an advisory board to the federal government released a set of recommendations Feb. 25 intended to spur the federal government to work harder on improving food systems in Northern Indigenous communities.

Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, a National Indigenous Economic Development Board member, says it's time for the federal government to make meaningful policy changes to improve Northern food systems because existing policies are only make food insecurity worse.
photo courtesy National Indigenous Economic Development Board

"Our recommendations are different and important because of their breadth and their Indigenous and Northern focus," said National Indigenous Economic Development Board (NIEDB) member Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier.

"Given the alarming levels of food insecurity in Northern communities and the impact of hunger on healthy and productive communities, the board decided to undertake to examine these issues and develop recommendations to give to the federal government to address Northern sustainable food systems."

Broomfield-Letemplier says that unlike food systems in the south, the North has many remote communities with limited transportation in areas that are feeling the impact of climate change.

"The challenges aren't simple, so we knew the recommendations couldn't be narrow," she said.

Broomfield-Letemplier stresses that the North has some of the highest poverty rates in the country with some of the most expensive food.

"Also, the recommendations had to come from those who live in the North and that's why we engaged people from the North," said Broomfield-Letemplier.

"They live these challenges. They know their own strengths. We've done a lot of work. We've listened to a lot of people. We do have the ear of the federal departments. That's why we worked really hard to come up with these (recommendations). Now is the time to start doing things. This is not going to get any better. If anything, it's getting worse."

The 16-page, 12-recommendation report, Recommendations on Northern Sustainable Food Systems, is organized under five themes: traditional foods, local food production, federal subsidy and support programs, infrastructure investment, and project funding coordination and promotion.

For example, the report states that while the commercialization of country and traditional foods remains a complicated issue, there appears to be support for establishing a regulatory framework to guide and regulate the selling and marketing of country and traditional food.

"In particular, this would enable the public procurement of country and traditional foods for use in hospitals, schools and other government institutions."

The NIEDB quotes 2018 policy work by the Gordon Foundation: "An Act would enable the creation of Indigenous-led institution(s) to administer the legislation and set standards for the regulation of the harvesting and sharing of country/traditional food. The legislation would be opt-in and would apply to Indigenous governments that choose to exercise jurisdiction over the harvesting and sharing of country/traditional food."

The board further emphasizes that current legislation and regulatory framework is an impediment to harvesting, selling and sharing country food, which has a negative effect on access to country foods in communities.


More hunter-support programs and guaranteed basic income

"Hunter support programs (HSP) have a stronger economic impact than other publicly-funded programs aimed at consumption (social assistance, for example). A 2003 study of the HSP in Kuujjuarapik found that the $198,000 spent by the HSP produced $482,555 worth of country/traditional foods – increasing its economic impact by 2.5 times," states the report.

Broomfield-Letemplier says the recommendations regarding traditional food and local food production (such as fisheries) are very important.

"But all (the recommendations) are extremely important," she said.

"I'm Inuit and I live in the North and I know what people go through. I think I've been to every community on the North coast of Labrador. I've been in Whitehorse, Iqaluit and Kuujjuaq, and I've seen firsthand what people go through, how they survive or try to survive."

The board offers several recommendations geared to the Nutrition North subsidy program, as well as suggested poverty-reduction measures.

"Inuit and other Northern communities are disproportionately affected by income disparity as high paying jobs are more often filled with southern-sourced labour. The greatest demonstration of this is in Nunavut, where the average income for the non-Indigenous population is greater than four times that of the Inuit population," states the report.

"Income inequality in Northern communities can create local food deserts, where healthy food is available but unaffordable to low-income people. Low incomes affect Indigenous peoples participating in country-food harvesting as well, where the increasing costs of hunting equipment (e.g. motor boats, snowmobiles, ammunition, gasoline) are barriers to access which can further increase inequality within communities."

The board also recommends

  • a guaranteed basic northern Income allowance and tax rates indexed to Northern cost of living;
  • supports for locally-owned supply and distribution chains for market foods, consideration of price capping for staples and ongoing monitoring of existing programs and food insecurity rates;
  • dedicated and protected funding for energy, transportation and internet infrastructure in the North;
  • universal applications to apply for multi-jurisdictional funding opportunities to minimize administration requirements for communities and facilitate maximum funding uptake; and
  • active promotion of social enterprise projects and social entrepreneurship through an annual competition and showcase of diverse projects addressing Northern food systems.

Broomfield-Letemplier says the report will be distributed to all key federal ministers.