Inuit in what is now Nunavut starved to death as late as 1958.* Are we seeing the same mixture of official indifference and incompetence at work today?
No one is actually starving in Nunavut at present. But there is widespread food insecurity, and things are getting worse. Basic food prices have skyrocketed since the Harper government eliminated the Food Mail subsidy program in 2010. Subsidies for such staples as flour, rice and dried pasta have been lowered.
“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.
The Special UN Rapporteur on Food recently documented this sort of thing and expressed his concerns. He was sent away with a flea in his ear by senior Conservative hacks: an “ill-informed academic” sniffed Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who no doubt pays less than $64.99 for a chicken in her comfortable Ottawa quarters, and draws a salary somewhat in excess of the median Nunavummiut one (<$20,000).
The Nunavummiut aren’t hungry, she claims: “they hunt every day.” But this takes liberties with the truth:
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. [Ron Elliott, the MLA for the High Arctic communities of Resolute, Grise Fiord and Arctic Bay] 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.
Inconceivable until now, Nunavummiut are rising up. Activist Leesee Papatsie started up a Facebook group called Feeding My Family which has, of this writing, nearly 20,000 members. There isn’t even an Inuktitut word for “protest,” says Papatsie, but people have been turning out to demonstrate in front of food stores.
Commenters at that last link beg to differ. So does Leesee Papatsie: “Every Inuit in Nunavut knows someone in their family or in their community that is hungry that day.”
* Laugrand, F., J. Oosten and D. Serkoak, “‘The saddest time of my life’: relocating the Ahiarmiut from Ennadai Lake (1950-1958).” Polar Record. 2010: 46 (237): 113-135