Food security is an ever-present problem in Nunavut, with an estimated 57 per cent of Inuit households classified as food insecure in 2018.
In July, we reported on store-bought food and how as of 2019 it was estimated that between 80 and 93 per cent of calories that Nunavummiut consume are shipped thousands of kilometres from suppliers in southern Canada.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in its July 2021 Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy stated 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.”
Happily, we can report that many community-based initiatives are beginning to see the fruits (or meats) of their labours.
The Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit has been shifting its focus from ‘soup kitchen’ to a more well-rounded approach to food security and sovereignty since 2019.
On Jan. 20, the centre announced its newest country food box program. Within 24 hours of that, the 40 boxes — valued at $125 but sold on a pay-what-you-can basis — were all claimed.
Currently, the food is being sourced from hunters in Iqaluit, Clyde River, Taloyoak, Rankin Inlet, Naujaat and Pond Inlet. Executive director Rachel Blais says there are plans to source from other communities in the future.
She also says the centre is offering hunters a level of flexibility that isn’t always seen on the commercial side of things in ordering country food.
“We’ll take what you have, whatever you catch while you go out on a hunt we will purchase at a fair and respectable price,” Blais said.
This approach benefits wide swaths of the community from those doing the hunting to those requiring assistance.
There are approximately 6,000 Inuit living in the Ottawa area, many of whom don’t have regular access to traditional food. This is changing via Reconseal, a cultural exchange founded by Ruben Komangapik and Yoanis Menge. The group donated about 700 pounds of seal meat as well as harvested skins to two organizations in the country’s capital.
“We are stepping up to the plate and doing a real reconciliation through this animal,” said Komangapik. “Hopefully, everyone else in this country could get inspired by that.”
In Taloyoak, the Niqihaqut Project received $451,000 through the Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2020 and is finalizing delivery of its cut-and-wrap facility, which will be providing a supply of seasonal game, aiming to help the community of close to 1,000 people meet their dietary needs.
Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the organization, is mindful of the worries about over-harvesting, but assures the goal is to provide for the community and wants to invest money made back into the young people of the community so they can go on the land and connect back to their roots.
As the project scales up, more assistance will be needed from the government, he added.
The climate is ripe for government assistance for these sorts of initiatives. With its eye on reconciliation and fulfilling articles in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the federal government is investing more than ever into food sovereignty. Thirty organizations across Nunavut, including municipalities, food banks and schools, received a total of $1.1 million from Ottawa in October.
Regional Inuit organizations have been stemming some of the burden caused by Covid-19 with vouchers and boxes of goods and supplies, and the Department of Economic Development and Transportation also helps address food security through its country food distribution program.
While we’ve got a very long way to go until no Nunavummiuq goes hungry, it’s encouraging to see these signs of growth in our food desert.