ONTD Political

"Every Inuit in Nunavut knows someone in their family or in their community that is hungry that day"

3:35 pm - 06/10/2012
Inuit organize widespread protest over hunger, food cost

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."

The sign on the left reads "Lower the cost of food. This is for our children & our future children." The sign on the right reads "Elders are affected too from high cost of food."

"Stop sending expired food" "Fried chicken $64.99"

"50% [of] children aged 3 to 5 yrs don't get enough to eat" - Qaniuppitali Inuit Health Study


Something that isn't mentioned in the article is how conservationists have been starving the Inuit for decades. Bans on hunting and whaling are killing a way of life that has sustained the Inuit for thousands of years.

There's a petition you can sign. And Canadians please write to your MP about this, tell them to take a stand and listen to what the Inuit are telling the government. Please just spread this as far as you can. All photos are from the Facebook group, which all y'all should check out. A case of bottle water is $102, a head of red cabbage $20.50. It's ridiculous.
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poetic_pixie_13 11th-Jun-2012 04:47 am (UTC)
Thanks for letting me now. All fixed now.
qable 11th-Jun-2012 03:12 am (UTC)
An approximately 1,000% markup goes a long way past ridiculous, even with the costs of shipping the food. That is some serious price-gouging.
nicosian 11th-Jun-2012 03:27 am (UTC)
A friend worked as an MD in Rankin Inlet and the cost of food she posted, she was horrified.
I agree, there's some serious gouging going on. Its criminal. There's got to be a better way to serve remote communities. They're not a target for taking advantage.

When she had to fly to winnipeg on medivacs, she'd stop off at a store and stuff her luggage with food to bring back.

romp 11th-Jun-2012 03:35 am (UTC)
just curious: is your friend working off her student loans or is the pay irresistible or does she just want to work up north?
romp 11th-Jun-2012 03:31 am (UTC)
I read this yesterday--good for you for posting it here! The rising cost of food is already stressing out my family--I can't imagine living like people in the far north do.

The info on the cost of hunting was new to me because I've heard that a return to a traditional diet would help.

Climate change ties in to this because the ice roads can't be made in warm winters like this past one, yeah?

nicosian 11th-Jun-2012 03:37 am (UTC)
from what I gather on the FB site, food shipping is now largely left to private companies, where it used to be done via Canada Post/Governmental ( and therefore subsidized) and the rate for ordering food from southern provinces just rocketed.

I could be wrong. i didn't spend hours reading the FB site, but it was one factor someone mentioned.

(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
poetic_pixie_13 11th-Jun-2012 04:54 am (UTC)
I was thinking of a sarcastic reply but ended up mad and upset and wanting to punch the Conservatives in the face.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
effervescent 11th-Jun-2012 04:11 am (UTC)
Whoa. Linking this on my facebook and elsewhere, I was completely unaware. D:
velvetunicorn 11th-Jun-2012 04:21 am (UTC)
I'm so glad they're speaking up and making people aware of this. This is absolutely ridiculous.
romp 11th-Jun-2012 04:37 am (UTC)
and thanks, OP, for the links, esp to writing MPs--mine is a rock star but I'm sure most haven't gotten a sense that this is a BFD for Canadians
popehippo 11th-Jun-2012 05:49 am (UTC)
Fucking awful. D: Signed the petition, though it seems like there's not much for folks outside Canada to do much.
sesmo 11th-Jun-2012 06:02 am (UTC)
Scary. Did Canada Post stop delivering up there? The mark-up is ridiculous. You'd think someone could make enough money flying the occasional small plane up there with basic non-perishables, at the least, so these kids & adults can get enough calories. I can see the difficulty in sending up seasonal/green products, but how the heck is the mark-up on basic foods this high.
leaf_collector 11th-Jun-2012 06:31 am (UTC)
I don't know how it works in Canada, but in Alaska, the problem is similar (though nowhere as bad, due to laws put in place by the state legislature and the Native corporations) where foods are marked up high in villages communities.
It comes from a few factors: companies who want to get the money for their product (even though I'm fairly sure some companies sell them at discounted rates this far north); the cost of shipping these items out is paid for partially by the rate hike-up, but there's also the added cost of airplane fuel (not cheap at all these days), or whatever other mode of travel is used (airplane is easiest, but at least in AK pilots are rarely a part of the village, not due to lack of knowledge, but the cost of maintaining a plane); and then more recently it was revealed in my local community the companies who are getting these items to rural villages charge an arm and a leg for groceries- not because it costs a lot for the companies, but apparently because it's difficult or there are 'a lot of factors' at play(eye roll here).
Again, I don't know about the specifics of Canada, because there's the added complication of a set of laws which I'm not familiar with(vs. AK law). But, no matter where I go it always just seems like white folks in governmental power taking advantage, or just plain indifferent. :/

Sorry if I got off on a rant here- this is a topic I feel very passionately about, and it strikes close to home.
leaf_collector 11th-Jun-2012 06:15 am (UTC)
Fucking awful :(
I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is what the internet should be used for. My history teacher was fond of saying that the more technology evolves, the closer it brings the world together; this is case and point IMO. Even though these folks live so far from "civilization" (as it were..) they're using internet to bring awareness to this incredibly fucking awful situation.

"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."
I'm from Alaska and the issue is here as well (though not anywhere as bad) where price markup is brutal, and not all members of rural communities can afford to make use of subsistence rights (though many do). While there are a lot (extra emphasis, ALOT) of problems with the system, native groups in AK have managed to hold their own, and speak in a sovereign voice. I'm glad others elsewhere are doing the same, despite all the pressures of those in power to stifle them. Signed the petition, thanks for sharing this and getting the word out.

Edited at 2012-06-11 06:15 am (UTC)
mentalguru 11th-Jun-2012 09:18 am (UTC)
Ugh this makes me ashamed to have studied conservation: WHY WERE WE NEVER TAUGHT THIS IN ETHICS?!

I mean yeah we discussed (briefly) things like the fact how third world nations have to deal with climate change effects more often and how first world nations can treat them in respect to emissions/economic development shittily but we never heard of anything like this. Ugh.
furrygreen 11th-Jun-2012 11:43 am (UTC)
This is horrible! Those poor families and those kids! I have to be honest and say this comment:

"Even if that cabbage cost $2, there's no guarantee the Inuit mother would buy it."

made me want to throw my computer. Really? Did someone actually say that/ use that as an excuse? So, because some idiot doubts that an Inuit mother would buy a head of cabbage, it's okay to charge $20 for it?

This attitude of blaming the victims is SO frustrating to me. Yeah, I'm really sure a mother will allow her family to starve to death because she isn't willing to learn the mysteries of cabbage. Mothers will do almost anything for their children. To not only assume other but then to use that as justification is just beyond me.
sasha_davidovna 11th-Jun-2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's particularly accurate to say that "conservationists have been starving the Inuit for decades" when the real problem is overharvesting by other groups, and the Japanese deciding to be assholes. (From your second linked article: The 10,000 Inuit in Alaska are allowed to kill 50 bowheads a year but - at this week's International Whaling Commission conference in Japan - the host nation pushed through a ban on all indigenous hunts in retaliation for restrictions on its own whaling.)
furrygreen 11th-Jun-2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
the host nation pushed through a ban on all indigenous hunts in retaliation for restrictions on its own whaling.)

Ah, politics. It's never afraid to act like five year olds.

I thought Japan got around its whaling restrictions by doing "research" on whales (that they conveniently kill and harvest for consumption afterward.) Did they try to restrict them further?
tabaqui 11th-Jun-2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
Jesus fuck, that's grotesque. I'm sorry, but that's genocide. Can't hunt, can't afford the damn food? Revolting.
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