New food strategy calls for major government investment, Inuit leadership

‘It means empowering Inuit to feed our own communities,’ Inuit leader Aluki Kotierk says

A crowd of people in Iqaluit gather around to welcome a local walrus harvest in October 2020. A new ITK report notes that Inuit Nunangat is home to a rich bounty of local food, although harvesting of wildlife, or country food remains inaccessible to many families who don’t have the tools or transportation to hunt. (File photo by Dustin Patar)

By Sarah Rogers

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.

A new report by ITK revealed that food insecurity is highest in Nunavut and Nunavik, at 77 per cent, and slightly lower at 68 per cent in Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement region. There is currently no Inuit Nunangat-wide data about the prevalence of food insecurity among Inuit children under 15 years of age, although the 2007-2008 Inuit Health Service suggested they are particular vulnerable. (Graph courtesy of ITK)


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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by Mine Worker on

    I make , little over 100K a year. I have relatives that try to treat me like a ATM , some of them don t like to work. Lots of people suffer from food insecurity because , they don t want to work

    • Posted by Patrick Sageaktook on

      You are blaming people for things they don’t have control of, for the most part, because you refuse to confront your own family. Don’t be passive and tell your family how you feel about them asking for money from you. If you truly feel like you are treated like an ATM by your family, tell them that. Don’t be guilted into helping them if you really don’t want to.

      You generalizing how most people are food insecure because they don’t work is not true. You are victim blaming and this is a classless tactic. Do better.

    • Posted by Good for you on

      It’s great that you have a job, but don’t generalize on why the unemployment rate is high in Nunavut. There are so many factors and barriers preventing people from working. Do you not think that some feel shame from not having the required education, a fixed address, previous work experience, access to resume printers etc.
      When “get a job!” Is hurled at some it doesn’t help, it only hurts.

    • Posted by I agree with MW on

      I think it is brave of you to speak up in this manner Mine Worker. At some point we need to address these issues within our community and our culture. Too many seem to challenge ones Inukness if they do not bow to giving away everything they work hard for so other family members can do nothing with their lives. It is your lived experience and it is valid.

      There are TOO MANY EXCUSES hurled around for why people dont do more to help themselves and the weight on the functioning and contributing members of this society is only getting heavier and heavier. We can only bend so far. Not every person is suffering insurmountable trauma and too many people give up far too easily because its easier to fall into the safety net of social assistance than to get up everyday and put in the work!

      • Posted by Why O Why O? on

        Why do people use this phrase “lived experience”? Besides revealing so much mimicry, it’s so redundant.

        • Posted by Ever Chic on

          Because they think they are being “current” when really they are being fashionable.

  2. Posted by $500,000 on

    “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.”
    That works out to about $500,000 for every man woman and child in Nunavut today. Where did all that mney go? What was done with it? Who has it?
    Why are we paying to ship good food out of here, just to pay again to ship other food up here?
    Who came up with this plan to have Inuit go hungry, just so shipping companies can make money?
    Here’s a food strategy: Feed the North first. No food goes south while any Inuit are hungry.

    • Posted by But did you read it? on

      You clearly didn’t read it 🙄

  3. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    “country food remains inaccessible to many families who don’t have the tools or transportation to hunt”

    Just exactly what do they not have access to? Are you saying they do not have access to atv’s, snowmobiles, guns? How did your ancestors harvest food?

  4. Posted by Focus on the family on

    I was a single mother of 3 on social assistance and my #1 priority was always the needs of my children!! I watch many people focus more on what they want rather than what their family needs!! I determined to work to make things better for my children and I determined to get off of social assistance, which I did, through hard work!!

    • Posted by Forever Amazed on

      You are one of the few. Congrats on your current endeavors and good luck on your future endeavors.

  5. Posted by what about you on

    NTI, what is your plan to help Inuit? Complaining is not a plan, by the way. NTI, you have lost touch a long time ago; let that be your focus instead of blaming others

    A few suggestions for NTI to get started on
    1. Help create an economy, not help shut it down
    2. Help train Inuit for meaningful employment
    3. Seed Inuit business start-ups, as Private business is the biggest employer in Canada but its an endangered species in Nunavut
    4. Help people make better personal decisions in their lives

    There is a fine line between creating dependency or independence, and NTI you are on the wrong side of that one by always crying foul and never helping your people. listen to your people.

    • Posted by working on

      NTI you have not invested anything unlike Nunavik you are only relying on interest rate with the money was settled from the feds your just trying to be a voice for Inuit without investing and even in that area you don’t cut it! nothing but disappointment from NTI.

  6. Posted by Financial Planning on

    How about financial planning being taught. Yes it is expensive to buy food but extra unnecessary stress is added on with how much pop, chips, and kukuk is being bought in the communities. It would be interesting to know is it in the millions spent each year? also there are many families that will by expensive iPhones one week and then sell them for half the price the next because they need money (then they will just buy another one a few weeks later, repeating the cycle). if they need the phone buy one you can afford so you dont have to sell it later. and possibly go a couple weeks without a phone until you can save up to buy one.

  7. Posted by Horace Willoughby on

    Why not start a caribou farm – like breed a herd of them on the tundra. Like cattle or somethin.
    Then distribute. Perfect.

    • Posted by KUUJJUAMIUK on

      They tried that in Kuujjuaq Nunavik in the 80 s , did not work out

      • Posted by Why Why on

        It was tried near Kimmirut, too.
        Why did those attempts fail? What can be learned? It works for the Sami. What can be learned from them?

        • Posted by Phil Lange on

          The elders in Kimmirut and KInngait can tell you so much about the reindeer project run by Saami people. It was a fascinating encounter between two arctic peoples with very different ways of living. If I remember rightly, the Saami found that the plant life on southern Qikiqtaaluk was not adequate for reindeer from Scandinavia, the lichens, mosses, and all did not furnish enough nutrition and so the herds survived, yes, but couldn’t thrive. (More recent research may have different findings.)

  8. Posted by Nunavamiutaq on

    It will always be the same on food shortage in Nunavut for families even if they look at the food cost . Other things that our Government have to look at is the Housing rental that rent with housing eat atleast 60per cent of our wages lower the rate or increase our wages that will help feed our family . Also the Goverment needs a watch dog on funding given to the local stores (Northern , Co-operatives) that they get for freight cost on food products.

  9. Posted by Just curious on

    Does this strategy include recommendations in investing more in assessing and monitoring stocks of fish, caribou, musk ox and other country foods? Also investment in developing sustainable harvesting plans so there is country food available? No point in having more boats, better harbours, more sleds etc …. if there’s nothing to harvest locally. Look around people. There are numerous examples of depleted fish and wildlife stocks in the north that have led to food shortages. Some of these are the result of poor management and the reluctance of communities to set sustainable limits on harvesting that would keep populations healthy for future generations. The Government of Nunavut, federal and community wildlife management organizations are severely under resourced to manage ‘the country food shelves’ of the north. So to those of you who created this strategy, perhaps thing about supply not just demand.

  10. Posted by Just curuous on

    There simply isn’t enough country food to sustain the north’s current human population let alone future increases in population. Therefore we must manage and maintain the supply of country food in a sustainable way. Set priorities. For example, a person who earns $100k a year perhaps doesn’t need to go caribou hunting on the weekend. Reserve available caribou for people who really need it. Same for other fish and wildlife stocks. But people have to be willing to make these hard choices. Simply supplying them with ammo isn’t going to solve it.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      Tuktu and hunting is very important to me even though i know i can not feed my family with out my job.
      what your saying is if i want to provide the knowledge and food from hunting to my children i have to make sure i never have a good paying job? that doesn’t sound like a great way to keep our traditions alive. also i need the time hunting for my personal wellbeing and mental health.

  11. Posted by Mcafe drinker on

    Government? Good luck everyone

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