NEWS: Nunavut June 04, 2012 - 7:08 am

Nunavut food protest gears up for June 9 grocery store demos

"Nunavummiut need to step forward, and move forward"


Grab a poster board and an overpriced food container and head to your local grocery store on June 9.

That’s Leesee Papatsie’s message to Nunavummiut across the territory. She wants to see people out in parking store lots protesting “overpriced” food in the North — and she might just get her wish. 

Papatsie, who lives in Iqaluit, created the Facebook page called “Feeding My Family” on May 29 to spread the word about the protest after recent news coverage of food insecurity and previous protests in Nunavut about the high cost of food.

“I just decided, okay this is something worth while to go forward with,” said Papatsie.

Now, a week later, there are just under 2,000 people who have joined as members of the group — more than the population of Arctic Bay and Gjoa Haven combined.

“I told my husband that if me and two other people show up that day I’d be happy,” said Papatsie. “It’s just amazing, the amount of support that Nunavut has showed, saying the same message — and that is the high cost of food in Nunavut.”

On the group, people are posting photos of grocery products that they feel are too inflated, such as a two-litre container of grape juice for $22.49, or a pack of Huggies diapers for $42.49.

Some just express their shock at the prices.

“Thought this town has expensive food, but seeing the picture of things [that] are more expensive, it’s like OMG!” wrote Olesie Kownirk on the page’s wall.

The protest will let others know about the high cost of living and food prices in the territory,  Papatsie said, adding that she doesn’t blame Ottawa or North West Co. for the high prices — although in a statement addressed to Nunavummiut on May 29, Papatsie said that “this is aimed at the big stores, and where all the money is going to.”

“For me it’s not about blaming. It’s about bringing awareness of the cost of food in Nunavut,” said Papatsie. “I want Nunavut to stand together as one, and I want other Nunavummiut to know what we’re all paying. I’m hoping that’s enough to get the initiative rolling.”

Papatsie would like to see programs for elders, and a lunch program for youths, and possibly more food programs in the future.

“For the elders, they get their pension once or twice a month. And they go buy the essentials like flour, tea, coffee, the basics. And it’s really high,” said Papatsie. “Think about our elders, our children, our low incomes, our single parents.”

Papatsie also stressed the need for peaceful protest — even if protesting isn’t exactly a traditional way of doing things for her.

“I don’t want any kind of harassment, or any kind of bullying. That’s not the point here. Once that starts, some part of the message will be lost,” she said. “I know this is not traditionally the Inuit way to protest. I also understand that but we are in a different society, a different kind of culture. So one thing I do want to say, it’s not traditional, but we Nunavummiut need to step forward, and move forward.”

New Democratic Party MP Jean Crowder, the opposition critic for aboriginal affairs in the House of Commons, plans to visit Iqaluit this week to discuss food insecurity in the North.

There is no word if she will be joining the protest, but Papatsie said she would welcome her if she decides to come.