Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) has released a strategy to address what it has deemed “crisis” levels of food insecurity in Inuit Nunangat.
The Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy, released Monday morning, has been years in the making. It calls for major government investments to support traditional harvesting practices, regulate and subsidize food transportation, and support food production, and demands increased Inuit autonomy over management of food systems.
“Our vision is to end hunger and support Inuit food sovereignty throughout Inuit Nunangat by helping to develop a sustainable food system that reflects our societal values, supports our well-being, and ensures our access to affordable, nutritious, safe, and culturally preferred foods,” the strategy reads.
Inuit Nunangat refers to the Inuit homeland within Canada. It spans the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the NWT, Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Québec, and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador.
There are five primary causes of food insecurity in Inuit households, according to the 56-page document: poverty, climate change, the high costs of living in the North, and the continued impacts of colonialism and systemic racism on Inuit communities and knowledge.
‘A shameful human rights violation’
The strategy contends that Inuit in Canada face “the highest documented prevalence of food insecurity of any Indigenous people living in a developed country.” Nearly three-quarters of Inuit aged 15 or older reported experiencing some level of food insecurity in the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey from Statistics Canada.
In an opening letter, ITK president Natan Obed condemned the lack of action from Canadian governments in addressing the issue.
“Inuit food insecurity is not a new issue, and it amounts to a shameful human rights violation that Canada is legally obligated to remedy,” he wrote.
“Government policies, programs, and monetary investments have an incredible impact on food choices, food availability, and food prices in our communities. It is my hope that this strategy can lead to changes in this system that is a key driver for food insecurity amongst Inuit.”
Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), told Cabin Radio he recognizes many of challenges contained in the strategy in Inuvialuit communities. He said the strategy highlights the daily struggles Inuit communities have faced for decades.
“This brings broad awareness to the Canadian public that the cost of living is very, very high in Canada’s north,” he said, “and there needs to be a better way in regard to reflecting that reality, as well as coming up with new concepts and ways of reducing this high cost of living.
“At times, households are saying, ‘Can we afford to go shopping today, or do we have to pay the power bill and/or rent? You have to have heat in your home to also survive, and so sometimes people make the tough decision and go without.”
Infrastructure is one of the primary concerns outlined in the strategy.
It says aviation and marine transportation are inadequate for the needs of Inuit communities. For example, many airports in the North are limited in the types of aircraft they can receive, and many marine vessels suffer from a lack of easily accessible docking facilities and ice navigation – both of which contribute to higher food prices.
Many families face difficulties in going out on the land and harvesting for themselves as the necessary equipment and transportation can be expensive.
Limited harvesting infrastructure, such as storage and processing facilities, also present a challenge.
“Canada’s unwillingness to seriously invest in the region’s marine and aviation infrastructure sets it apart from other nations with Arctic territory,” the strategy reads, “and its neglect of the region’s infrastructure needs contributes to high food prices and high cost of living throughout the region.
“The food system must be reshaped by Inuit in partnership with governments in order to remedy systemic challenges that contribute to food insecurity.”
Alongside an overview of the food system in Inuit Nunangat, ITK’s strategy lays out five priority areas and 33 recommended actions.
The five priorities include: food systems and well-being; legislation and policy; programs and services; knowledge, skills, and capacity; and research and evaluation.
Recommended actions range in complexity and scope, but all centre around increased government investment in all facets of the Inuit Nunangat food system – including poverty reduction measures and transportation subsidies – and ensuring that all solutions remain Inuit-led.
It calls for the advancement of research and policies on Inuit food security, supporting the resurgence of Inuit knowledge around food and nutrition, and the creation of a food school program across the Canadian Arctic, among other things.
For Smith, the key is supporting Inuvialuit families on the land, as well as the harvest of country foods to distribute throughout the region.
“It’s not all just about food security,” he clarified. “It’s the emotional and psychological attachment that we have to the land, and how it provides that comfort and relaxation that everybody needs to ease anxiety and stress, especially with the Covid being a major impact.
“It’s important for us to give the support where it’s needed so that households are not only getting out there, but they’re also building families skills, and by bonding more with each other.”
ITK is in the process of developing an implementation plan, which will include a suggested timeline. It hopes to release it “in the coming months.”
The IRC offers regular funding opportunities to assist communities with getting out on the land and is currently running its summer program. The organization has also run programs to distribute country foods to households that are not otherwise able to access it, including Inuvialuit families located outside the settlement region.
Smith said while an exciting and hopeful achievement, the strategy is simply the first step in combatting food insecurity across Inuit Nunangat.
“There are areas that are priorities in regard to working with the different federal departments on the implementation of this,” he said.
“We look forward to developing that part of the strategy with them so that we can try to alleviate the food insecurity to the extent that we can so that each Inuvialuit household can provide the important nutrition and foods to their family and themselves.”