In Clyde River, hunters have salaries and benefits

Last modified: December 21, 2022 at 8:49am

For many northerners, the value of harvesting country foods is obvious. A program in Clyde River that employs four full-time hunters aims to prove it to policymakers.

Last winter, shelves in the Nunavut hamlet’s only grocery store sat bare for months when a series of blizzards halted grocery deliveries to the fly-in community, on the east coast of Baffin Island.

The situation was an extreme iteration of an ongoing issue. Like many northern communities, food security is a challenge in Clyde River, said Shari Fox, director of the Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre. Store-bought food is often processed and inflation is adding to already “outrageous” prices, she said. It’s also not uncommon for the community to be cut off from its grocery supply by rough weather.


“You really realize how much you rely on country food,” Fox said.

To increase food security and access to country food, Ittaq has been running a program to support full-time, salaried hunters. The program, called Angunasuqtiit, was also partly born of requests from the community for more land-based programming, according to Fox.

In the program’s pilot phase, in 2017, one full-time hunter was hired. Since then, the team has grown to four hunters who harvest food for the community, conduct research and teach others their skills and knowledge.

One of the program’s goals, according to Fox, is to build a “more Inuit-centred economy” and reframe hunting as an essential service. Not only do the hunters provide healthy food, but they also cultivate environmental knowledge and their work supports mental health, she said.

Just like teachers and nurses, Fox said hunters fill a critical role. “What they do contributes to the health and wellness of everyone in the community.”


The community of Clyde River in 1997. Ansgar Walk/Wikimedia Commons

A stable job with benefits

Beyond the Angunasuqtiit program, hunting full-time can be a challenge.

One of the biggest barriers is money, according to Fox. Hunting might require a boat, skidoo, fuel, rifle, ammunition, and clothing, for example. “When you start to add up the gear and the tools you need, that costs a lot,” she said.

For some hunters, a spouse earns wages to cover these costs, but it can be stressful to live on one paycheque, Fox said. Others work full-time and hunt on weekends. Still others cycle between hunting and wage-paying jobs.

“A lot of times, what we’ve seen is hunters will take a wage-paying job for long enough to buy the equipment that they want, because what they really want to be doing is hunting,” Fox said. They then quit their job to hunt full-time but when their equipment breaks or needs parts, they have to go back to wage-paying work, she said.


Although there’s nothing wrong with part-time hunting, one of the things that makes the Angunasuqtiit program different is consistency, Fox said. Being out on the land full-time breeds a level of familiarity and expertise that is especially important in a warming world. Full-time hunters become a go-to source of knowledge on conditions and safety, she said.

In this way, the program shares similarities with Indigenous Guardians programs. It’s also similar to shorter-term land camps, but the Angunasuqtiit program runs year-round.

“I don’t know of any other [program] that runs full-time with hunters on salary,” Fox said.

Fox wouldn’t share specifics on how much the hunters are paid but said their salary is comparable to that of a teacher or nurse. Within the past year, Ittaq also secured benefits for the hunters. It’s “cool to have a hunter who’s making a good salary and can get eyeglasses for his kids,” she said.

A cabin on the land, built by instructors and participants in the Angunasuqtiit program. Esa Palituq/Ittaq

Documenting value

According to Fox, being a full-time hunter with Ittaq (the hunters themselves weren’t available for interview) goes something like this: Every morning, the four hunters get together and, depending on the season and weather conditions, decide what to do and where to go.

When the weather is bad, the hunters typically stay in the community – they might make tools or fix equipment.

When they go out on the land, they’re often working as instructors as well as hunters, passing on knowledge and skills to other community members. Arctic char, seal or narwhal are some of the most commonly harvested species, Fox said. “Right now, they’re out char fishing because they want to have a Christmas feast,” she told Cabin Radio two weeks ago.

Another aspect of their role is research. Not only do they collect their own observations, but they are also involved in maintaining the community’s network of weather stations and gathering environmental data.

In addition, the Ittaq team has been developing tools to document hunters’ harvest. By tracking what they catch, the team can calculate the store-bought price of an equivalent amount of food, demonstrating to decision-makers just how valuable their services are to the community.

Fox said the importance of hunting and spending time on the land is intuitive to northerners but often less obvious to funders and policymakers. “We have to come up with these creative ways to show them value in terms they understand.” That means relating value in dollars, she said.

Not everyone agrees that money should be part of conversations, though. Even though the harvest is shared for free, “there’s still a struggle around monetizing anything to do with hunting,” Fox said. The community has built meaningful relationships around hunting and sharing food. “When you start to assign money to it, I think it just kind-of turns people off.”

Fox points out that hunting costs money, though, and that money has to come from somewhere, whether it’s a salary or another job.

Although the hunters have already started gathering data, the team plans to start seriously tracking harvests in 2023. They’re also considering quantifying other services the program provides, such as physical and mental health benefits. “It kind-of feels weird, because it’s hard to put money value on those things, but it’s done and it’s useful for some purposes and audiences,” Fox said.

Some day, Fox hopes that kids in school can think of hunting as a viable career path, on par with training to be a librarian, a nurse or a mechanic. “A hunter is just as valid as any of those professions,” she said.