Nunavut has the highest rate of household food insecurity in the country, with one in three people experiencing food insecurity every month. Many Canadians are unaware of the issues facing people living in the north. There are a lot of factors contributing to food insecurity in the territory, like poverty and expenses, resulting in major health issues like obesity and diabetes. There are a number of ways to begin to rebuild food security in Nunavut, but minds and policies have to be changed.
Nunavut became a separate territory on April 1st, 1999, with it’s capital city being Iqaluit. Over four-fifths of Nunavut’s population are Inuit, and almost the rest being of European descent. The Inuit people have been living in the Canadian north for over 4,000 years, and traditionally relied on the environment for their hunting, clothing and shelter. New diseases brought by early contact with explorers diminished the population of Inuit, as well as forced them to adapt to European culture. By the 1950’s government policies forced the Inuit to modernize instead of keeping their traditional way of life. It’s only been two generations since the Inuit have been forced out of their semi-nomadic way of life. Now the government and its agencies are a major source of employment and income for the territory, because of Nunavut’s high mineral wealth.
There is a lot of reasons for the issues surrounding food insecurity in Nunavut, including Poverty and high cost of food. In 2011, 39.3 percent of Nunavut’s population received some form of assistance through the welfare program. Many households continue having to choose between paying for groceries or household bills. This creates an issue if an unseen medical costs come up, and leaves less money in the household budget; if the costs can even be covered.
Due to the costs of transportation to the north, food is also incredibly expensive. You can go into a store and find a bag of flour for $46, and potatoes for up to $17.39. The high prices have forced the people of Nunavut to buy cheap foods, with low nutrition and high calories. This increases the risk of long and short term health issues, and leaves food insecure households more vulnerable for disease. Mental health and major depressive disorder among Inuit is also higher than the national average. Even after putting in place Nunavut’s suicide prevention plan in 2011, the rate of suicide is still 10 times higher than Canada’s average for young men. Many people attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, but because of the prohibition in the north, alcohol prices have skyrocketed. With an average bootleg price of $300 a bottle, many household costs are overlooked, including food for the family.
This is a national issue, as is effects Canadian citizens, but many Canadians are unaware or uneducated as to the problems facing our north. It is difficult to sustain food in areas where the geographics of the land prevent farming, and traditional food and transportation are hard to access. As a Canadian, we should feel responsible for the next generation, and supply them with all the basic needs to succeed in life. Food is a basic need. 56% of children in Nunavut are living in food insecure households, that is over half of the all the children in the territory.
Food and nutrition are very important for children, without adequate food intake children are more developmentally at risk, and can experience physical and mental issues. Affecting the children’s cognitive development and performance in school, then for the rest of their lives. A third of Nunavut’s people are under the age of 18, making it Canada’s youngest population. It’s important that all Canadian children are provided with equal opportunities and have their basic needs met.
The main stakeholders are the Government. There are many unfair disadvantages affecting the aboriginals and residence of nunavut. Heating and lighting costs more in Nunavut than anywhere else in Canada. In Toronto electricity rates are around 8.3-12.9cents/kwh, in Iqaluit the rates are 43.42 cents/kwh, which is still the lowest rate in the territory. The inuit also face challenges making a median income of $19,900 a year, while non-aboriginals are making $86,600 yearly. These are just some examples of the many disadvantages facing the Inuit and people of Nunavut. All of this can be improved by changing government policies like subsidization. The cost of food in Nunavut is on average 140% higher than the rest of Canada, and often the foods that are subsidized by the government are not suitable or culturally relevant for the people living in Nunavut.
There are serious health implications facing anyone struggling with food insecurity. Food insecure households are at high risk of health issues including diabetes, obesity and overeating. Households tend to overeat when food is available, to “make up” for when food is not there. This, multiplied by the low nutrition and high calories in processed foods that many households can only afford, creates many issues surrounding obesity. There’s a much higher rate of obesity among aboriginals than non-aboriginals in Nunavut, with one in two Inuit aged six to eight being obese. Obesity can also lead to other many other health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a lower life expectancy. Diabetes among Aboriginal people is over 3 times higher than the general population. Nutritious and culturally appropriate foods must be available at a reasonable costs to prevent further damage.
The Nunavut Food Security Coalition had come up with 6 themes that are important to overcome food insecurity. They are Country food, Store-Bought food, Local Food Production, Life Skills, Programs and Community Initiative and Policy and Legislation. Country food accounts for all tradition foods found on their land, like seals, arctic char and whale. Nunavummiut eat less traditional or “country” foods today than ever before, because of the loss of tradition, population growth, poverty, climate changes and the costs surrounding hunting and harvesting. In 1999, Inuit received 23% of their daily energy from country foods, in 2008, that number dropped to 16%. Promoting country food also promotes the building of self sustaining communities. Nutritional food must be also available at stores for reasonable prices, so low income houses can afford to buy them. Life skills need to be taught to Nunavut’s youth on how to improve their food security and skills needed to obtain, store, prepare and consume these country foods.
More programs like food banks and soup kitchens should be set up to provide nutrition to people who cannot currently afford to, while hunting and farming should be encouraged as a sustainable source of food. Government policies and legislations like housing, income assistance, employment, transportation and education need to be culturally relevant and include Inuit values. The government needs to protect the aboriginal and Nunavut citizens, and reduce the disadvantages like the cost of food and transportation that are set against them.
Food insecurity is not a problem facing only the north, but households all around the world. There are many factors that contribute to different instances of food insecurity, but the health implications and results of poor health, chronic illness and disease are the same. I think that the Canadian government and citizens have the capability to make a positive impact on food insecurity in Nunavut, but awareness and concern has to be raised.It’s important to realize the depth and branches of food insecurity within Nunavut, and how hard it is to untangle while keeping the interests of the people of Nunavut and Aboriginals valued. A Lot of policies and legislation have to be changed to uplift and accommodate the people living in Nunavut.
About the author, Sarah Newman
Sarah is a grade 12 student from Oakville, Ontario. This blog post was written as part of her World Issues class final Summative. Sarah will be studying International Development this fall and looks forward to a career where she can assist others in various regions through out the world