Food Insecurity

Current Reality

Food insecurity has reached crisis levels in all four Inuit regions. In one Inuit region, 70% of Inuit adults were found to be living in food insecure households. This is six times higher than the Canadian national average and represents the highest documented food insecurity prevalence rate for any Indigenous population residing in a developed country.

Food insecurity is a serious public health concern because of its close ties to a person’s well-being. Not having enough nutritious food can have negative impacts on physical and mental health. Studies show links between food insecurity and higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, dental issues and depression. Obesity is also linked to malnutrition.

Nunavut has one of the highest birth rates with some of the youngest mothers in Canada. Food insecurity has detrimental impacts on pregnant women and their babies. Malnutrition during pregnancy can result in poor birth outcomes and long-term negative health effects for both mother and child.  Children’s cognitive, academic and psychosocial development are harmed by food insecurity. For Inuit, the impacts of food insecurity also extend to cultural well-being because of the centrality of country foods to culture, community and identity.

Food Insecurity in Canada. Inuit Tapariit Kanatami.

Food Sovereignty and Harvesting. Qikiqtani Inuit Association. 2018

Mar. 6, 2019 – Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) released a food sovereignty and harvesting report today outlining a forward looking, solution-oriented approach to Nunavut’s food problems.

“Nunavut needs a shift from thinking about food security to food sovereignty,” says QIA President P.J. Akeeagok, “This means empowering Inuit to feed our communities.” For Inuit, who live in the Arctic, a healthy traditional diet means heavy emphasis on animals and fish harvested from surrounding lands and waters. Colonization has disconnected many Inuit from the traditional practices of harvesting. As a result, Nunavut suffers from chronic food insecurity with over 70 per cent of Nunavummiut as food insecure. Achieving food sovereignty in Nunavut means supporting harvesters, re-establishing connections to harvesting culture, and building the infrastructure needed to allow Inuit to control the local food supply.

QIA’s food sovereignty and harvesting report envisions a Nunavut where country food is a readily available choice for families and harvesting is a viable livelihood. QIA’s goal is for every Inuk in the Qikiqtani Region to have stable and long-term access to locally harvested country food.

Nutrition North Systemic Barriers

Nutrition North Canada (NNC) is a Government of Canada subsidy program intended to provide Northerners in isolated communities with improved access to perishable nutritious food. QIA echoes the position articulated by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. about the shortcomings of Nutrition North Canada. Like previous food subsidy programs, Nutrition North has fallen short of meeting its objectives.

“We found that [The Ministry] has not verified whether the northern retailers pass on the full subsidy to consumers.” Auditor General, 2014


  • NNC does not subsidize hunting, fishing and harvesting equipment which creates systemic barriers for Inuit to cultivate our local food systems Less than one per cent of the total NNC budget has contributed to increasing access to country food.
  • NNC preferentially supports imported, factory-farmed animal protein rather than locally harvested country food
  • NNC is based on a market-driven model that treats food as a commodity rather than a basic human right
  • NNC protects the interest of the retailers by not making public the terms of the agreement between the Government of Canada and northern businesses that benefit from the subsidy
  • NNC allows retailers to exercise arbitrary power over food pricing without checks and balances to ensure the full subsidy is passed on to consumers
  • NNC does not require that landed freight costs of food and the profit margin collected by retailers be made publicly available making it impossible to determine if the subsidy is passed on to consumers
  • NNC program structure is fragmented as it is administrated by different federal departments located in the south

Inuit Recommendation

Mar. 6, 2019 – Food sovereignty for Inuit means the right to nutritious locally-sourced food. In Nunavut this translates to country food. Harvesters play an integral role in Inuit food sovereignty. They provide country food that feeds communities, reinvigorates Inuit cultural practices and stimulates local economies. Food sovereignty incorporates Inuit knowledge, language, culture continuity and community self-sufficiency. Supporting food sovereignty shows a commitment towards reconciliation. (Food Sovereignty and Harvesting QIA 2018)

Centre for Indigenous People’s Nutrition and Environment (CINE)

“CINE is a university centre that is unique in the world because of its focus on traditional food systems of Indigenous Peoples. Our interdisciplinary approach to research and education gives exciting depth and breadth to our mission.” Dr. Harriet V. Kuhnlein, CINE Founding Director

CINE was created in response to a need expressed by Aboriginal Peoples for participatory research and education to address their concerns about the integrity of their traditional food systems. Deterioration in the environment has adverse impacts on the health and lifestyles of Indigenous Peoples, in particular nutrition as affected by food and food traditions. Canada’s aboriginal leaders worked together to lobby for funds and to establish a working structure to conduct CINE’s activities. Discussions began in 1989, and resulted in an award for infrastructure funding through the Arctic Environmental Strategy (AES) of the Department of Indian and Northern Development (DIAND), an initiative of Canada’s Green Plan.

Governing Board

  • Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief, Regional Chief, AFN-NWT
  • Bob Van Dijken, Director, Circumpolar Relations, Council of Yukon First Nations
  • Eva Johnson, Environment Protection Coordinator, Mohawk Council of Kahná:wake
  • Stephanie Meakin, Inuit Circumpolar Conference
  • Eric Loring, Senior Policy Advisor, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

CINE Mission

In concert with Indigenous Peoples, CINE will undertake community-based research and education related to traditional food systems. The empirical knowledge of the environment inherent in Indigenous societies will be incorporated into all its efforts. CINE’s Governing Board has created and approved a set of guiding principles and basic contributions for work with Indigenous Peoples and within McGill University.

Guiding Principles

  • Document, promote and incorporate traditional knowledge of nutrition and environment 
  • Respond to concerns of local communities on their food, food use and environment
  • Develop participatory relationships between communities and scientists for undertaking research in nutrition and ecosystems 
  • Encourage continuing consultation, communication and recognition of elders to enhance the relevance of CINE’s work
  • Implement ethics guidelines for research, including those related to intellectual property rights as adopted by University Councils and the CINE Board 
  • Provide training to students and other residents of local communities 
  • Communicate research findings widely, both nationally and internationally, and contribute to policy developments in areas related to the CINE mission 

Research Activities 

  • Environmental and cultural changes have an impact on traditional food systems and nutrition of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Global similarities and significance include:
  • Attempts to conserve traditional subsistence within sensitive environments.
  • Increasing contaminant levels in traditional food due to pollution, e.g. from pesticide use.
  • Nutrient deficiencies resulting from discontinued use of traditional food resources altered by degradation of the environment.
  • Increasing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease when people move away from traditional diet and activity patterns.
  • Social, economic and political forces, for example land treaties or titles, that affect traditional lifestyle and access to traditional food resources.
  • Emphasis on biodiversity.
  • CINE is developing links with international organizations that focus on traditional food systems, nutrition and environmental issues. The CINE Governing Board promotes CINE’s activities at the international level as part of our long-term plan.

Northern Sustainable Food Systems Recommendations Report (NIEDB)

Feb. 25, 2019 – Northern sustainable food systems are a critical component of economic development in the North. Sustainable food systems support food security, leading to healthier communities, and individuals who are better able to participate in the workforce. With a healthier workforce, the economic climate is more favourable to attract and retain businesses. Improvements in employment, educational opportunities and increased incomes in turn allow for greater food security.  Northern sustainable food systems both drive economic development and benefit from the economic growth associated with new business opportunities.

Based on internal and external research, along with findings from our Roundtable event held in Whitehorse, Yukon in June 2018 to discuss Northern Sustainable food systems with Northerners, the Board has made a suite of recommendations that address gaps in creating sustainable food systems:

  • First, we recommend a set of four policy tools designed to address traditional foods and the opportunity to contribute more reliably and sustainably to food systems in the North. These policies and programs would support hunters and facilitate the procurement of traditional foods for use in hospitals, schools and government institutions, develop appropriate marketing and management practices, and facilitate food inspections to ensure food safety regulations are met. Importantly, all of these policies would be co-developed with Indigenous governing bodies and recognize Indigenous governmental authority to make regulations respecting the harvesting and use of country/traditional foods.
  • Second, we recommend the development and enhanced involvement in a set of two programs designed to promote climate change and adaptation programs and small-scale Indigenous commercial fisheries. These programs include the support for local processing facilities to offer the greatest benefit within and for communities.   Country and traditional foods offer an irreplaceable contribution to Indigenous food systems far beyond their excellent nutritional value and supporting these endeavours now and for the future has widespread economic and community benefits.
  • Third, we recommend significant enhancements and alterations to federal subsidy programs. We recommend that The Nutrition North program focus on support for local food production and harvesting through transportation subsidies for traditional foods, and for tools and supplies used for local food production and harvesting. Further, we recommend the introduction of a Northern Basic Income Allowance and Northern indexed federal income tax rates. Additionally, we recommend economic development supports to enable locally-owned supply and distribution chains for market foods, consideration of price capping for staples and ongoing monitoring of existing food programs and food insecurity rates.
  • Fourth, we recommend an ongoing infrastructure investment strategy that honours previous fiscal commitments and continues to focus on transportation infrastructure (marine, air and ground) maintenance and enhancements. Deep water port construction, airport improvements, and road enhancements are all required to ensure remote and isolated communities maintain distribution networks and are best positioned to take advantage of economic development opportunities in the future.
  • Fifth, we recommend a simplification and coordination of funding opportunities for Northern individuals, communities and businesses looking to develop local solutions, combined with a sharing network for projects and developers to communicate with case-study champions. A single-window platform to identify funding opportunities and a single-user application will encourage innovation and localization of food systems contributions and reduce the need to navigate multiple departmental and jurisdictional levels. A sharing network will allow for the communication of ideas, successes and challenges across the North to facilitate expansion of successes and minimize barriers.

Ultimately, our recommendations to enhance and support sustainable food systems in the North focus on increased participation and autonomy at the local level in the development and support of local solutions and local food production. All recommendations look to further Indigenous self-determination and self-governance through a distinctions-based approach. In combination with enhanced and simplified funding for local initiatives and sharing networks of Northern solutions, the North will be better positioned to support sustainable food systems and future economic development.

Next Steps

The proposed policy recommendations have been developed from insights through internal and external research as well as through engagement at a Roundtable event in Whitehorse, Yukon which was well-attended by diverse, local stakeholders. Overwhelmingly what was heard was a desire for greater participation and autonomy in Northern food systems by those most directly impacted.

Our recommendations to enhance and support sustainable food systems in the North focus on the development and support of local solutions and local food production. In combination with enhanced and simplified funding for local initiatives and sharing networks of Northern solutions, the North would be better positioned to support sustainable food systems and future economic development.

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