Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Around the Arctic June 04, 2012 - 8:01 am

Nunavut MP clarifies what she told UN food envoy

“It’s because we do have food issues in the North that I wanted to speak with this individual”


Your recent editorial “Two things you’ll hate to read about” made reference to comments I made concerning the visit of Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Food Security.

I would like to take the opportunity to clarify for your readers – and all Nunavummiut – what I communicated to the UNSR on the topic of food security.

I requested a meeting with the UNSR because I was told that he had decided to ignore the Arctic as part of his visit to Canada.  At the same time, he planned to make statements about food in the territories.

I am personally tired of academics studying northern life from afar, while not engaging with community members on the ground.  As the MP for Nunavut, I wanted to meet and challenge him on why he didn’t go to one single Arctic community.  He told me that it was “too far” for him to travel.

I showed him the map of the three territories, and pointed out Gjoa Haven, which is where I grew up.  I explained that my family lived off the land, and that I understood the issues that northerners face about food very well, based on personal experience.

I explained that interference from the international community – while they may mean well – actually can often hurt the ability of northerners to purchase food. 

When the European Union shuts down markets for seal products, hunters can no longer sell their pelts, income dries up, and the ability to provide for one’s family is hurt.

When large, international companies focus on conservation to the point when it starts to affect traditional hunts for polar bears, for example, it hurts us.  It limits access to a resource that can be used to feed a family, sold to feed other families, or marketed as guided hunting tours, which brings much-needed revenue into remote communities.

When environmental groups call for a ban of Arctic fishing, they don’t give any thought as to what that means for our local economy, or the availability of food.

The UNSR clearly had not considered these points, and chose to ignore the territories in his travels, yet presented his opinions as that of an expert when speaking to the national media.

I found his lack of understanding frustrating, and I spoke my mind, saying he was “uninformed” and “condescending.” I stand by these statements.

Unfortunately, some have chosen to spin this as if I said that we had no issues with food security in the North.

It’s because we do have food issues in the North I wanted to speak with this individual.  I wanted him to hear more from the people he was choosing not to visit.

When Mr. De Schutter produces his final report, we’ll see if he chooses to include any of these perspectives. I hope he will call upon the European Union to get rid of its ban on seal products, which is based on misinformation put forward by animal rights extremists.

When I hear someone who has very little information about Canada’s North, yet chooses to lecture us on how we should live and govern ourselves, yes, I will speak up with passion. 

In addition to speaking out, one of the most important roles I can play is in northern economic development. 

When individuals and families have the opportunity to hold meaningful, well-paying jobs, this is the greatest weapon in the fight against food insecurity. 

I am proud to be part of a government that is focused on creating conditions that foster economic growth across the country.  I am also honoured to be the elected Member of Parliament for Nunavut.

To play that role effectively, sometimes it will mean I speak bluntly in response to self-proclaimed experts who choose to tell us how we should live, without even having the courtesy to visit our territory.

I will continue to work hard and be a strong voice in Ottawa for all Nunavummiut, for as long as voters give me the opportunity to do so.

Leona Aglukkaq
MP for Nunavut
Minister Responsible for the North
Minister of Health

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