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.
Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy
The Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy (INFSS) identifies drivers of food insecurity that are common to all regions of Inuit Nunangat. It sets out the coordinated actions required to address the interrelated drivers of food insecurity, such a:
- high living costs
- climate change, and
The INFSS calls for actions to strengthen Inuit control over the governance of our food system through national policies, programs, and initiatives that provide direct supports for the local and regional Inuit-driven initiatives that are can make a difference. Furthermore, the Strategy identifies ways to support the development of an Inuit Nunangat food system that more closely reflects the realities and priorities of Inuit communities.
Why we need an Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy
The high prevalence of food insecurity among Inuit is a complex national public health crisis that can only be remedied through coordinated actions undertaken by multiple partners. The drivers of food insecurity are interconnected. Addressing them requires innovative actions and investments that can only be coordinated through a national strategy. The INFSS serves three main functions:
- To create a common national understanding of the prevalence of food insecurity among Inuit and its impacts on health and well-being.
- To facilitate a common national understanding of the drivers of food insecurity among Inuit and the policy solutions that can help ensure all Inuit families are able to meet their needs.
- To coordinate measurable actions by governments, Inuit, and stakeholders in the Inuit Nunangat food system to improve food security among our people.
The INFSS allows Inuit to work together using a strengths-based approach that builds on existing food security measures. Improving food security is a shared priority across Inuit Nunangat, and the INFSS identifies solutions that can be tailored to the unique circumstances of each Inuit Nunangat region.
PRIORITY AREA 1: Food systems and well-being
Integrate Inuit-led food security and poverty reduction actions
Colonialism has shaped the current Inuit Nunangat food system into one that is incompatible with the food needs and priorities of Inuit. The food system must be reshaped by Inuit in partnership with governments in order to remedy systemic challenges that contribute to food insecurity. These challenges include the growing infrastructure gap between Inuit Nunangat and most other regions of Canada, as well as its negative impacts on harvesting, the high cost of living, and high food prices. At the same time, governments should build on promising initiatives and food system models in addition to partnering with Inuit to implement ambitious poverty reduction measures. Where there is alignment with Inuit regional contexts, governments should support and incentivize the integration of harvested foods into retail supply chains.
- Food security is improved through effective poverty reduction measures
- The Inuit Nunangat food system reflects Inuit food priorities.
- Climate-resilient infrastructure supports the country food harvesting economy, promotes population health and safety, and reduces the cost of living.
- Social benefits are adequate, and pathways for accessing them are clear and supported by adequate information.
- Advance comprehensive Inuit Nunangat cost-of-living reduction measures and advocate for their implementation by governments supported by an Inuit-specific cost-of-living standard.
- Work through the Inuit–Crown Partnership Committee to align federally controlled components of the food system with Inuit priorities.
- Support Inuit-led initiatives to sustain and promote the country food economy.
- Apply an Inuit Nunangat policy lens in partnership with the federal government that eliminates program and service gaps and contributes to Inuit food security.
- Develop an Inuit Nunangat–specific food guide and/or associated tools.
- Address infrastructure deficits impacting the Inuit Nunangat food system focusing on transportation and harvesting infrastructure.
- Assess the adequacy of social assistance programs.
- Partner with governments to increase Inuit access to existing income.
PRIORITY AREA 2: Legislation and policy
Create sustained Inuit engagement on comprehensive legislated solutions
Partnerships between Inuit and governments that respect and support Inuit self- determination and Inuit food sovereignty are necessary to ensure that food security measures are effective. Federal legislative and policy initiatives that are intended to improve food security must be implemented in partnership with Inuit through a distinctions-based approach. Furthermore, ambitious policy measures analogous to those enacted to support agricultural industries are required to support and promote Inuit country food harvesting, reduce food transportation costs, and to support local and regional food economies. New legislative initiatives, as well as amendments to existing legislation, must be enacted in partnership with Inuit to eliminate the legislative and regulatory gaps that indirectly contribute to food insecurity among Inuit. Such measures should include federal subsidies that cap and reduce transportation costs, control volatile food prices, and reduce the cost of living in Inuit Nunangat.
- Rights-based partnerships between Inuit and governments guide the development and implementation of food policies, programs, and initiatives that are intended to benefit Inuit.
- onsumer protections are in place that ensure Inuit have access to affordable food and are protected from volatile food pricing.
- Airlines and aviation infrastructure serving Inuit Nunangat are subsidized and regulated as an essential service.
- Promote and support Inuit regional food security strategies and sustainable community programs and initiatives with long-term funding to provide food for children, youth, and families, as well as food skills development.
- Work through the Inuit–Crown Partnership Committee to ensure that federal food security and poverty reduction initiatives are coordinated and developed in partnership with Inuit.
- Advance legislative and policy solutions that support Inuit country food harvesting and local food enterprises that encourage the growth of the local economy. Address regulatory restrictions that prevent the sale of harvested foods in public institutions, restaurants, retailers and others.
- Explore food price regulations, starting with options for Nutrition North Canada subsidized items.
- Reduce the high cost of living by advocating for transformative northern air infrastructure investments.
- Reduce the high cost of living by advocating for the creation of a remote air service program that creates targeted and regulated subsidies for airlines that provide essential services to Inuit communities.
PRIORITY AREA 3: Programs and services
Build evidence-based and responsive programs and services
New evidence-based programs and services are needed that address the interrelated drivers of food insecurity among Inuit including initiatives that provide direct financial relief to vulnerable families. National initiatives that build on promising cost-of-living reduction measures, such as those put in place in Nunavik through a negotiated Inuit–provincial agree- ment, are required to reduce poverty and improve food security throughout Inuit Nunangat. Nutrition North Canada should be reformed in partnership with Inuit into a program that is designed to address the drivers of food insecurity and uphold the right to adequate food. Near-term action should be taken to facilitate single-window access to the patchwork of federal programs, services, and initiatives that address various components of food insecurity.
- Federal food security programs and initiatives are in place that are effective at improving Inuit food security.
- Food security programs and services are evidence-based and uphold the right to adequate food.
- Programs and services that are intended to improve food security are accessible to Inuit throughout Inuit Nunangat.
- Reform Nutrition North Canada into an evidence-based food security program including advocacy for an audit of Nutrition North Canada.
- Evaluate Inuit use and access to existing federal programs, services, and initiatives that are intended to improve food security.
- Create an Inuit Nunangat school food program.
- Advocate for the introduction of evidence-based poverty reduction measures, including, but not limited to, Inuit-driven home visitation programs and guaranteed livable income models.
- Advance policy solutions for filling gaps in federal, provincial, and territorial infrastructure investments that impact the Inuit Nunangat food system.
- Support local food programs, services, and initiatives across Inuit Nunangat.
PRIORITY 4: Knowledge, skills, and capacity
Support Inuit country food and sharing systems Country food harvesting and distribution is integral to food security and Inuit food sovereignty yet harvesters can face significant barriers to securing and distributing country foods including unpredictable environmental conditions, inadequate search and rescue, and limited marine and harvesting infrastructure. Governments should recognize the connection between harvesting and the right to adequate food and partner with Inuit in advancing measures that further support and promote harvesting activities and knowledge transfer associated with harvesting. Such measures should include development and support for harvesting infrastructure and the integration of harvested foods into commercial supply chains. More can also be done to support an Inuit-defined healthy diet that meets Inuit cultural and nutritional needs. In addition, there are promising policy linkages that could be made to synergize the kinds of skills and multiple training opportunities available to Inuit harvesters and local health workers delivering training in country food and market food processing and nutrition education initiatives.
- All Inuit have the opportunity to acquire harvesting knowledge and skills.
- Food produced in Inuit Nunangat is safe for consumption and accessible and affordable to Inuit
- Implementation of Inuit land claims agreements strengthens local and regional wildlife management bodies and facilitates access to harvested foods.
- Promote program models that teach Inuit harvesting knowledge and skills and provide supports for equitable participation.
- Support Inuit-specific nutritional knowledge and literacy initiatives through informal and formal educational opportunities.
- Advocate for investments in marine and harvesting infrastructure.
- Create Inuit-specific policy and program supports for local and regional food system initiatives including Hunter Support Programs, on-the-land skills training for country food harvesters, local wildlife management activities, and country food subsidies
- Advocate for increased federal supports aimed at increasing the availability and affordability of country foods.
- Champion the integration of local and imported market food supply chains, as well as Inuit sharing networks for country foods and local food production.
PRIORITY AREA 5: Research and evaluation
Mobilize Inuit food security research and evaluation
Research on food security is integral for mobilizing food security interventions, monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness, and protecting population health. In addition to existing Inuit-led research initiatives, new partnerships between Inuit and governments, researchers, and research institutions are necessary to document linkages between country food harvesting and food security, monitor environmental contaminants and climate impacts on harvesting, and support Inuit self-determination in fish and wildlife management regimes.
- Inuit food security research is based on Inuit food security priorities.
- Measures intended to improve food security among Inuit are guided by the best available research.
- National household harvesting and country food consumption data informs food and environmental policy.
- Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy is evaluated.
- Advance linked Inuit food security research and policy initiatives through partnerships with researchers, research institutions, and funding agencies.
- Create a food security measurement that accurately reflects the Inuit experience.
- Enhance Inuit-led research capacity and infrastructure, including in relation to Inuit-owned research centres, to monitor food security and safety.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of existing food programs, policies, and initiatives
- Food insecurity rates among Inuit are regularly measured through Qanuippitaa.
- Use the Qanuippitaa National Inuit Health Survey to gather country food consumption data that supports Inuit decision-making to improve policies and programs.
- Conduct monitoring, evaluation, and learning on the implementation of the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy.
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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.