New country food facility coming to Taloyoak

Project aims to improve access to country food, provide local jobs for Inuit

A new country food cut-and-wrap facility is coming to Taloyoak, which will aim to provide affordable, healthy food to residents, and create new jobs for Inuit. (Screenshot from Arctic Inspiration Prize broadcast/APTN)

By Mélanie Ritchot

A new meat-processing facility aims to make traditional food like caribou and beluga more accessible for Taloyoak residents, the man behind the project says.

Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Organization, described the project as the start of a new traditional food-driven economy for the community.

Oleekatalik’s project, Niqihaqut, which means “our food” in Inuktitut, won $451,000 through the Arctic Inspiration Prize, announced on Feb. 19.

Jimmy Oleekatalik, the manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Organization, is the team leader or the Niqihaqut project, which means “our food” in Inuktitut. (Photo by
ArctiConnexion)

“We still feel like we’re dreaming,” he said. “It was very uplifting for our community to get that prize.”

The money will go towards the new facility, which will incorporate sustainable harvesting and food processing methods.

When it opens, people will be able to buy caribou that is already cut and wrapped instead of buying beef at the grocery store, Oleekatalik said.

He said he also hopes the project will help preserve traditional knowledge and get people back out on the land to learn skills like butchering.

“All that has been kind of lost over the years, so we’d like to get back to those roots,” said Oleekatalik.

It’s not clear how many jobs the facility could create, but Oleekatalik is thinking somewhere between six and 10, and says “people are very interested.”

The plans for the meat-processing facility will set into motion around the end of the month, Oleekatalik said.

Vincent L’Hérault, a Niqihaqut team member, said people will be trained for positions related to storage, sales, deliveries, management and marketing.

The facility will be in an existing building at first, he said, but once the group gains experience and develops a sustainable harvesting plan for country food, the goal is to build a larger facility.

Inside the cut-and-wrap facility, there will be a band saw, meat grinder, vacuum sealer, stainless steel counters and sinks, and freezers, L’Hérault said.

With these tools, workers will be able to butcher entire animals and prepare ready-to-cook packages of caribou, muskox, seal steak, ribs, ground meat, fish fillets, and more.

Brandon Laforest is the senior Arctic specialist with World Wildlife Fund Canada and one of the co-leads of Niqihaqut.

“People are so proud of Jimmy,” he said. “He’s the one that really has been working with the [hunters and trappers organization] and the elders to put this vision forward.”

Laforest also said Niqihaqut fits into plans for the proposed Aviqtuuq Inuit Protected and Conserved Area, near Taloyoak. It would cover over 90,000 square kilometres — an area larger than New Brunswick.

The meat facility could foster a country food-based economy, which Laforest believes is a good alternative to other types of economic development, such as mining, which can harm land and contaminate food sources.

Getting this area of Boothia Peninsula recognized as a protected area could take years, Laforest said, but conservation efforts are gaining momentum.

He said the goal is to see the protected area add even more jobs to the community, through the creation of guardian and ranger positions.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Darren on

    Just reading about all of this, about making The Cut-and-Wrap facility is big news and I’m grateful about this project which while start soon. Butcher is fun and good knowledge of how to use everything on each animals and each of the resources. Looking forward to some more news about the Facility.

  2. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    Good for you Jimmy. I see your dream is coming to fruition. The best of luck to you and Taloyoak to make this happen.

  3. Posted by nanuk on

    This is probably the best news coming out of my old (and too-brief) inulirrii days in Taloyoak since I left 54 years ago, after introducing first-time seal netting there way back then! All my best wishes for a sustainably successful enterprise. I hope you consider the community-benefitting angle of structuring the enterprise as a co-op.

  4. Posted by Jim Bo on

    Don’t they sell the most Caribou on FB, across all territories?? I heard Canadian North sent a plane up there only as a freighter, cause they had so much meat to move cause it was sold across Kanata. Can see were this is going, go out hunting with your children now….cause acouple years from now, you’ll have nothing left.

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