The Associated Press
Date: Friday Jun. 8, 2012
IQALUIT, Nunavut - A head of cabbage for $20. Fifteen bucks for a small bag of apples.
A case of ginger ale: $82.
Fed up and frustrated by sky-high food prices and concerned over widespread hunger in their communities, thousands of Inuit have spent weeks posting pictures and price tags from their local grocery stores to a Facebook site called Feed My Family.
That site is now the nucleus of an unprecedented protest across Nunavut organized for Saturday to draw attention to food prices that would shock southerners.
"This is traditionally not the Inuit way, I understand that," said Leesee Papatsie, the 44-year-old Iqaluit mother of four who's organizing the event. "But we're trying to get Nunavummiut to step forward and say 'Hey, food is too expensive."'
Papatsie wants Inuit in every community in Nunavut to stand together outside their local grocery store Saturday afternoon. A similar event is being organized in Ottawa.
Weeks after the federal government dismissed concerns from a United Nations representative about food insecurity in Canada's North, turnout at the protest could be impressive. More than 10,000 people have joined the Feed My Family site -- over a third of Nunavut's entire population.
"Food insecurity is so prevalent," said Nunavut's territorial nutritionist, Jennifer Wakegijig, who tabled a report on the issue this week in the Nunavut legislature.
It found nearly three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in food-insecure homes. Half of youths 11 to 15 years old sometimes go to bed hungry. Two-thirds of Inuit parents also told a McGill University survey that they sometimes ran out of food and couldn't afford more.
"Every Inuit in Nunavut knows someone in their family or in their community that is hungry that day," said Papatsie.
The roots of the problem are deep and tangled.
Cost is one of them. As Ron Elliott, the MLA for the High Arctic communities of Resolute, Grise Fiord and Arctic Bay said, "We're at the end of the food chain here."
He tells of one southern Inuit family that tried to send food north to relatives. Shipping $200 worth of groceries cost $500.
Nunavut's larder of "country food" -- caribou, seals, fish and other animals -- is there for the taking, but only if people can afford the snowmobiles, gas, rifles, ammunition and gear needed to travel safely. Elliott estimates hunting costs about $150 a day.
Canada's national Inuit group, Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami, reports 42 per cent of Inuit say hunting is too expensive.
And those being asked to bear those costs are among Canada's poorest. ITK says half of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 a year.
But Inuit don't always have the skills to make the best use of the resources they've got, Wakegijig acknowledges.
"There's just been a whole shift in the food supply for people that are now living in communities. And that shift in food supply didn't necessarily bring with it knowledge about or how to prepare southern types of food," she said.
"Even if that cabbage cost $2, there's no guarantee the Inuit mother would buy it."
Poverty and food security are now at the centre of the territorial government's agenda. A "Food Security Coalition" has been formed with representatives from six different government departments, as well as Inuit organizations.
Nunavut has also established school breakfast programs in all its communities. It offers classes in cooking and prenatal nutrition. It funds repairs to community freezers to store harvested game and sponsors community hunts to make more country food available.
Increasingly, country food is being sold. Some suggest that will create incentives for hunters to bring in more of it. But others point out those who can't afford hamburger aren't likely to be able to afford caribou, either.
A wealthier territory could go a long way to making Arctic hunger history. Ed McKenna of the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction points out that mineral exploration in Nunavut is likely to create much-needed jobs.
"Economic growth is needed, and we will have those things," he said. "The problem is how to ensure that people participate in that economic growth."
Good jobs will help, but not everyone will work in a mine. McKenna said communities have to learn to work together to ensure none among them go hungry.
"Poverty reduction amounts to more than just an issue around income," he said. "Poverty has lots of different dimensions and we need to take a holistic approach."
Meanwhile, Papatsie is just tired of paying $500 to $600 a week in groceries for herself, her husband and her one child still at home.
"I just wanted to voice one simple message: food costs are too high in Nunavut."
MLA for Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay Ron Elliot joins protesters complaining of high food prices in the North on Saturday June 9, 2012 in Iqualuit, Nunavut. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Watson
The Canadian Press
Date: Sunday Jun. 24, 2012
IQALUIT, Nunavut - After another week that saw hundreds of Inuit gather outside their grocery stores to protest the high cost of food, top Nunavut officials are meeting to start looking for long-term answers to the persistent problem of hunger in the Arctic.
"People are getting more and more frustrated," acknowledged Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak, days before the first meeting of the territory's Food Security Coalition.
"It has come to the point where people are demonstrating. It's good to see people taking action."
One of them was Eric Joamie, who joined about 200 others in Pangnirtung on western Baffin Island Thursday to complain about food bills that total, in his case, up to $1,000 a week.
"We know a lot of our own community children are hungry," he said.
Similar demonstrations took place in several communities across Nunavut, as well as in Ottawa. They were the latest in a series of such demonstrations that began last spring in Coral Harbour, Nunavut.
The Facebook site Feeding My Family, which has been used to organized the protests, now has almost 22,000 members -- two-thirds the size of Nunavut's entire population.
Research has found nearly three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in homes without a sure supply of food. Half of youths between 11 and 15 sometimes go to bed hungry. Two-thirds of Inuit parents also told a survey that they sometimes ran out of food and couldn't afford more.
A UN representative recently embarrassed the Canadian government by concluding that many in Nunavut are "too poor to eat decently."
The territorial government has budgeted $6 million for community freezers, school breakfast programs, community hunts and higher social assistance rates.
But Aariak knows more needs to be done. That's why on Tuesday representatives from six government departments and several Inuit organizations are to meet for the first time to try to come up with permanent solutions.
There will be no single answer, she said in an interview.
"No one program will make the problem go away."
Towns and hamlets have to learn to increase the supply of country food -- caribou, whale, char and other game -- by making best use of refurbished community freezers and holding community hunts, Aariak suggested.
Inuit have no tradition of cooking store-bought foods and need better information on how to get the most out of their grocery dollars.
Aariak added the federal government needs to realize that building infrastructure such as ports would lower shipping costs for those bringing in food from the south.
As well, Ottawa's Nutrition North program, which subsidizes retailers to bring in fresh foods at lower cost, needs to be monitored to ensure savings are being passed on and that the list of subsidized groceries is wide enough, she said. Disposable diapers, for example, are not subsidized despite the fact Nunavut has Canada's highest fertility rate.
"It's very important for the federal government to listen to the people," said Aariak. "I think there's room to do more."
Ultimately, said Aariak, economic development and jobs are the best providers of food security. But you also have to talk education, health and housing.
"Everything is connected."
Governments won't be the only source of solutions, Aariak hopes. She said the recent protests could be a sign Nunavummiut are ready to start taking matters into their own hands.
"I don't think the public is waiting for their government or their organizations to address this situation," she said.
"There is this power at the community level. I applaud that initiative. I'm a strong believer in community self-reliance."
Still, Inuit like Joamie point out that while long-term solutions are the best, people are hungry now.
"People that are hungry have to be helped immediately," said Joamie, who will represent Feeding My Family at the meeting.
He'd like to see better co-ordination of food banks in Nunavut.
"We have to get that going as soon as possible."
Aariak agreed helping those in distress is important. But long-term solutions are what the Food Security Coalition seeks, and that will eventually have to include different levels of government, retailers, shippers, other businesses, Inuit organizations and individual Inuit.
"We need the participation of additional partners," she said. "We want to involve as many people as possible.
"This is something that will be addressed over many years."