Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik September 20, 2016 - 10:00 am

Ungava Gin maker seeks connections with Inuit groups, communities

But not all of gin’s ingredients come from the Nunavik region

Berries grow on a hillside overlooking Kuujjuaq. Gin maker Ungava Gin says it’s harvested some, but not of its botanicals in the Nunavik region. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Berries grow on a hillside overlooking Kuujjuaq. Gin maker Ungava Gin says it’s harvested some, but not of its botanicals in the Nunavik region. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

"Ungava Canadian Premium Gin originates on the northern frontier where the vast Canadian tundra meets icy seas," says the product's website. (IMAGE COURTESY OF UNGAVA GIN)

The makers of the controversial Ungava Gin say they’re looking for guidance on how to better represent the Ungava region in their future marketing and how to direct benefits to Inuit communities.

The company is responding to a backlash against promotional material that was recently called out as cultural appropriation.

“We never expected a crisis like that,” said the company’s marketing director Stéphane Hamel. “We have to make something good come from this.”

The gin maker Domaine Pinnacle, recently purchased by Toronto-based Corby Spirit and Wine, was in the process of re-developing its advertising and website when it received an avalanche of criticism over its offensive portrayal of Inuit.

Hamel said the campaign—complete with miniature cartoon Inuit characters and models dressed in low-cut, fur-trimmed costumes—was a thing of the past, something marketed to Europe in 2013 without much scrutiny from the Quebec company. But, like everything that goes online, it stuck around on its social media pages.

Although the company initially called the criticism “a one-off,” it has since issued an apology.

In a social media post Sept. 16, the company pledged to work “to source cultural influencers’ advice on ways to give back to the Inuit community.”

But Hamel said he’s not there quite yet and he’s still looking for suggestions on which groups to contact.

The only Nunavik organization Domaine Pinnacle had contact with when it launched Ungava Gin in 2010 was the Avataq Cultural Institute, where it went looking to source the herbs and berries the organization already uses in its Inuit herbal teas.

But Avataq declined to work with the company, not wanting to be involved in producing an alcoholic beverage.

Makivik Corp., which represents the Inuit of Nunavik, said it’s never heard from Domaine Pinnacle.

The birthright organization said it’s unaware of who harvests the plants and berries for the gin, and where they’re picked.

And neither Avataq nor Makivik responded to Nunatsiaq News’ request for a comment on the company’s marketing efforts.

Ungava Gin’s ingredients include juniper berries but also a special blend of wild rose hips, cloudberry, crowberry and Labrador tea. “From the Arctic tundra to its contemporary bottle,” Ungava Gin’s website says.

Hamel said the company prides itself on the Quebec-sourced, artisanally-harvested botanicals it uses in its line of drinks, which includes ciders, spiced rum and maple whisky.

But he couldn’t say exactly which herbs are sourced in Nunavik and where, only saying all the botanicals are picked below the 55th parallel.

Initially, Hamel said the company sent a specialist to Nunavik to work with local pickers. But in the years since the gin was launched, Hamel said its ingredients have also come from the northern shores of the St. Lawrence River or the Gaspé region.

But Hamel said the gin maker is committed to fixing its past mistakes and building a better relationship with Ungava’s residents moving forward.

Hamel said all the offensive ads have been removed from the company’s social media and website—which is getting a re-do this fall anyway—while the company looks at ways to connect with Inuit groups and communities.

“It’s not to something to brag about,” Hamel said. “It’s just to do it.”


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