New food strategy calls for major government investment, Inuit leadership
‘It means empowering Inuit to feed our own communities,’ Inuit leader Aluki Kotierk says
Canada’s national Inuit organization has unveiled a new plan to tackle hunger across the North that calls for major government investment and strengthened Inuit control over their food systems.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami released the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy Monday morning, revealing that three-quarters of Inuit adults have unreliable access to affordable, nutritious food.
The strategy documents what drives that problem, including poverty, a major transportation infrastructure deficit across the North — which limits how food reaches Inuit communities — as well as a lack of focus on locally produced foods.
In response, the strategy lays out a series of solutions, from serious investments in marine, air and harvesting infrastructure to cost-of-living subsidies and more Inuit-led food programs.
In a letter included in the opening pages of the strategy, ITK president Natan Obed calls Inuit food insecurity “a shameful human rights violation.”
“Governments have stood by for far too long, prioritizing incremental actions and investments that do not remedy the root causes of food insecurity,” he states.
“Grassroots movements in Inuit Nunangat … have succeeded in focusing national attention on this issue. However, not enough has changed as a result of these efforts and too many of our people continue to struggle.
“This reality is unacceptable and must be changed.”
The report points to poverty as the biggest factor in the access to food. The median annual income for Inuit adults is $23,483, compared to $92,011 for non-Indigenous people living in Inuit Nunangat, and $34,604 for Canadians as a whole.
Inuit spend a disproportionately large share of their income on food and meals compared with other Canadians, according to the new report. A Northern Food Basket — what it costs to feed a family of four for one week — can cost upwards of 30 per cent of a Northern Inuit household income, compared to just 14 per cent of a southern Canadian income.
The vast majority of the foods Inuit consume are shipped thousands of kilometres from southern retailers, which is responsible for the high cost of groceries across the North.
The report highlights the extent to which Inuit communities rely on both air and marine transport to access food, but that its “aging and inadequate” infrastructure only creates more barriers to food shipping.
Most communities have very basic marine infrastructure, if anything at all, the report found, meaning resupply ships must rely on smaller vessels to transfer goods to land. Local harvesters must anchor their boats in open water, which puts them at risk at being damaged.
But despite Inuit communities’ reliance on southern-shipped foods, the report notes that Inuit Nunangat is in fact home to a rich bounty of local food.
Harvesting of wildlife, or country food, however, remains inaccessible to many families who don’t have the tools or transportation to hunt.
And much of that commercially harvested wildlife leaves the North — shrimp, turbot and char make up the Canadian Arctic’s biggest exports — which the report says brought in $18 billion in revenues over the last 30 years.
The Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy offers 33 recommendations and action items, largely targeted at the federal, provincial and territorial governments that oversee the country’s 53 Inuit communities. Among them:
- government-funded cost-of-living subsidies to help offset the high cost of food, much like the Quebec-funded Kativik Regional Government-led subsidy program in Nunavik
- designate air travel as an essential service across Inuit Nunangat, which would guarantee subsidies for airlines and aviation infrastructure
- ensure all Inuit have the opportunity to acquire harvesting skills
- ensure that all food harvested and produced across Inuit Nunangat is accessible to Inuit
- reform the federal Nutrition North Canada program into an evidence-based and regularly audited food security program
The strategy also calls on Inuit to be at the forefront of developing any food policies and programs in their own regions.
“For Nunavut Inuit, harvesting, processing and consumption of country foods is deeply linked to community ethics and Inuit identity,” Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk said, reacting to the new strategy in a news release.
“We must make a shift from thinking about food security to food sovereignty,” she said. “It means empowering Inuit to feed our own communities.”
The strategy was developed by ITK along with its member organizations: Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Makivik Corporation and the Nunatsiavut Government, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, as well as the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, and the National Inuit Youth Council.
ITK said the strategy’s implementation will be led by the Inuit Crown Partnership Committee.
The strategy can be found here.