Sales brisk at Iqaluit country foods store
“I don’t have a hunter… I crave for country food and I will go and buy it when it is available”
On a Friday morning at Iqaluit Enterprises, six customers enter in the span of 10 minutes to peruse two large freezers full of Arctic char, muktuk, shrimp and prawns.
It’s not always this busy, says owner Jim Currie, but Friday is a payday, and this week, there are several meetings drawing Nunavummiut from out of town.
Joanasie Akumalik comes in looking for seal.
“I live in Ottawa,” he says, by way of explaining why he’s hunting for seal in a deep freeze.
The next customer is Jack Anawak, who also lives in Ottawa and is going home today. He slaps six frozen dried char fillets and two fresh fillets onto the counter, next to his copy of today’s Ottawa Citizen, and shakes Jim’s hand.
Next is a young girl carrying two grocery bags from Northmart, and asking for caribou. None is available, so she leaves with char and muktuk.
For the past 25 years, Iqalungmiut have been able to buy frozen country food at Nunavut’s only strictly country-food store.
Selling country food is “a conundrum for a lot of people,” Currie says.
Traditionally, country food is shared amongst relatives and community members. Currie buys it directly from hunters, or sometimes from HTOs, and processes and packages it himself (meeting federal safety standards.)
“This might be a little more difficult for an Inuk,” Currie says.
As more and more people move from the communities to Iqaluit, Currie gets more and more customers who don’t have relatives to bring them food. He also sells country food to people who work full-time and rarely go hunting.
Currie has several young women as customers, one of whom calls him “my great white hunter,” he says. “Even though I don’t hunt.”
Nunavut’s Commissioner, Ann Hanson, is a customer.
“I don’t have a hunter,” she says. “I crave for country food and I will go and buy it when it is available.”
Hanson has also been to Greenland three times, where she’s seen hunters sell their catch on their own by setting up stands on the beach.
“I think it’s a good system,” she says. “If [country food] was available from my people, I’d go and buy it.”
Hanson is aware that many people view selling country food as “unethical,” but says she sees it differently. Maintaining snowmobiles, boats and rifles is “very, very expensive,” she says, and not all hunters receive help from Inuit organizations.
Already, Hanson says, she hears people on the radio advertising caribou, char or ptarmigan for sale in Inuktitut.
“Now, it’s new and controversial,” she says. “But I think we’re moving towards that kind of economy so it will be normal in a matter of time.”
Hanson compares the Inuit to farmers.
“I’m sure it was strange in the beginning for farmers to be selling food to their neighbors.”