Nunavut food security group calls for one-day boycott

“I think this is better because anybody can do it, silently"


Feeding My Family founder Leesee Papatsie says boycotts are more culturally appropriate than protests for Inuit. (FILE PHOTO)

Feeding My Family founder Leesee Papatsie says boycotts are more culturally appropriate than protests for Inuit. (FILE PHOTO)

The social activism group, Feeding My Family, has called on its supporters to boycott North West Co. retail outlets across the Arctic on Jan. 31.

The boycott, if successful, would mean customers would stay away from North Mart, Northern Stores, Giant Tiger and Alaska Commercial Value stores in communities across Nunavut, Nunavik, Northwest Territories, Alaska, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario.

The Feeding My Family group, backed by nearly 24,000 Facebook members, has largely succeeded in its goal of raising awareness about the high cost of food prices in the North by mounting public protests.

But Leesee Papatsie, spokesperson for the group and organizer of the planned Jan. 31 boycott, said she’s always trying to find new ways to spread the word about northern food security and increase the pressure on retailers and politicians.

That’s how the idea of boycotts — rather than demonstrations — was born.

A boycott is also more in line with Inuit culture, she said.

“I think this is better because anybody can do it, silently. The actual protests we’ve held, to the Inuit, it’s not Inuit custom and has never been. There’s been a lot of supporters from Inuit themselves, and this is a way for them to help, silently,” Papatsie said Jan. 20.

Papatsie said the upcoming boycott focuses on North West Co. retail outlets because of how widespread they are across the Arctic.

“I want North West Company to lower their food prices,” Papatsie said.

Food in the North will always be expensive compared to southern Canada because of the cost of transporting food to remote communities, Papatsie said. But there is room for retailers to lower prices while still making a profit.

In particular, Papatsie takes issue with the federal Nutrition North food subsidy program.

The Auditor General of Canada released a formal audit of the program in November which said, among other things, that the federal government did not adequately ensure that the entire freight subsidy is passed on to consumers at retail outlets.

“If you look at the subsidy rate to Grise Fiord, for example, the subsidy rate from the federal program is higher than the freight rate…As soon as the product is landed, retailers are making money off the program,” Papatsie said.

“Of course they can lower the food prices.”

The North West Co. does not operate a retail outlet in Grise Fiord and freight rates negotiated between airlines and retailers are confidential.

But the Auditor General’s report did point out that in some communities, subsidy rates are higher than freight rates.

Some on social media forums have also criticized Feeding My Family’s efforts.

A Twitter user named @RadicalOmnivore suggested broader tactics Jan. 20.

True, Papatsie said — the group has never protested outside those Iqaluit venues but those are good suggestions, she added.

“We haven’t protested at those places, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t. If somebody wants to organize a protest, please do,” she said.

The same Twitter user said focusing on retailers misses the mark.

Papatsie said focusing more on politicians is also a good idea and she hopes others take the initiative to combat food insecurity and high-priced northern food in their own way

“We’re about people and self-reliance. You never know what will happen until you try,” she said.

Although Papatsie has had contact with representatives from North West Co. in the past, through email, she did not reach out to them for this protest.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have a lot of faith in what they’d say,” she said.

Nunatsiaq News tried to contact North West Co. for a response but no one responded by our publication time.

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