On July 12, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) released its report in response to rates of hunger drastically higher in Inuit Nunangat compared to the rest of Canada.
The 2007–2008 Inuit Health Survey, which included Inuit households in Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and Nunatsiavut, classified 62.6 per cent of Inuit households as food insecure, compared with 7.7 per cent of all Canadian households.
The more recent report, titled the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy, describes food security as all people, at all times, having “physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
“Food insecurity encompasses different states that range from not having the ability to afford a balanced diet, persistent worrying about not being able to access food, missing meals or not eating for days at a time.”
There are many underlying causes of food insecurity that still ripple out today, including Inuit being moved into permanent year-round settlements, strict harvesting regulations, the culling of sled dogs in some regions and residential schooling cited as having a dramatic impact on the ability of Inuit to remain self-reliant on harvested foods. The decline of caribou herds has also been detrimental.
Poverty, inadequate and crowded housing and even climate change contribute to this insecurity as well, making harvesting expensive, unpredictable and sometimes unattainable. People often must travel long distances to harvest country foods, which can be both dangerous and expensive.
Store-bought food is shipped in throughout the year via airplane or by sealift and as of 2019 it’s estimated that between 80 and 93 per cent of calories that Inuit consume are shipped thousands of kilometres from suppliers in southern Canada.
These foods are generally far less nutritious than harvested country foods and it’s noted in the report that “in the absence of local harvesting activities, the commercial food sector would not be able to meet the cultural or food needs of our people.”
The Nutrition North program is meant to bridge gaps and make store-bought food more affordable and accessible, but has largely been a dud. This year, the federal budget proposes $163.4 million over three years to expand the program and two new members, Brenda Jancke and Beth Kotierk, both of Nunavut, were appointed to the board in a move the Government of Canada hopes will “strengthen and amplify local expertise in the program.”
There are many community-based initiatives that exist to alleviate hunger and provide short-term relief for individuals and families across the territory, including food banks, soup kitchens, community harvesting initiatives, nutrition education initiatives and school breakfast programs. The report notes “others teach food skills, such as nutrition, cooking, country food harvesting and gardening skills. Regional hunter support programs encourage harvesting as a way of life, and community freezers provide country food to Inuit households through our sharing networks.”
One thing the report is most critical of, rightly, is the lack of long-term solutions being offered, as well as the lack of co-ordination between initiatives – like how the Qajukturvik Food Centre is looking to evict the Piviniit Society’s thrift store to make more room for their own expanded programming – and poor program monitoring, which only serves to undermine all efforts, making them less impactful and effective overall.
Addressing poverty and the infrastructure gap, both federal responsibilities, while making sure Inuit lead the decision-making processes, will ensure communities can continue to feed their members. Nobody should have to go to bed hungry in a country as wealthy as Canada. These overlooked inequities cannot stand.