Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 18, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Nunavut community experiment channels southern donations into harvesting

“Nutrition is important and every bite counts"

SARAH ROGERS
Bowhead muktuk harvested near Igloolik last summer. The organization Feeding Nunavut is working to support hunters in the Baffin community this year by funding community harvesting trips. (PHOTO COURTESY OF D. BARKER-SHEAVES)
Bowhead muktuk harvested near Igloolik last summer. The organization Feeding Nunavut is working to support hunters in the Baffin community this year by funding community harvesting trips. (PHOTO COURTESY OF D. BARKER-SHEAVES)

When a group of harvesters returned home to Igloolik with about 200 Arctic char last summer, the fish didn’t last long.

One of the harvesters laid out the fish in front of her home for community members to take. In 30 minutes, all the char was gone.

“It was wonderful,” said Dana Barker-Sheaves, who oversees a new hunters support pilot project in the Baffin community.

“We have great harvesters in our community,” she said. “But the cost of gas, supplies—just the cost of food to go out on the land is a lot.

“I think it’s really important that country foods remain accessible. We all agree. But how is the community going to do that?”

Igloolik’s local Hunters and Trappers Association has managed different hunter support programs in the community of about 2,000 people over the years.

But much of its funding dried up in 2014, when Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. pulled its Nunavut Harvester Support Program to give the organization time to review and revamp the program.

Earlier this year, NTI announced the program would be rebranded as a charitable entity to oversee the $14 million Hunters Income Support Trust Fund. But NTI has yet to relaunch the program.

Meanwhile, Igloolik’s HTA maintains a community freezer, but Barker-Sheaves said it’s difficult to keep it stocked.

That’s where Feeding Nunavut comes in.

The Ontario-based non-profit launched in 2015 to respond to interest among southern Canadians to help relieve food insecurity in Nunavut communities, working in collaboration with Feeding My Family’s Leesee Papatsie.

The woman behind the organization, Taye Newman, soon discovered that shipping food north was inefficient: it was difficult for donors to connect with the communities or food banks they wanted to support.

As she started to visit Nunavut communities, Newman quickly learned about the demand for country food, access to which Inuit have long argued is the most sustainable solution to food insecurity.

“It just boiled down to money, and sometimes that was as simple as gas money,” Newman said. “Now we do our best to support programs that already exist in the community.”

So Feeding Nunavut launched a pilot to support Igloolik hunters who feed their community. It’s not a new concept—the program pays for gas, supplies and food for hunters to get out on the land to harvest and bring back their catch to share with community members in need.

An initial $5,000 fund helped to run one successful char harvest last summer, described earlier, and a caribou harvest in the early fall, which ended up being unsuccessful, Barker-Sheaves said.

Caribou harvesting has become a challenge in recent years, she noted, with herd numbers down; there are also reports that wildlife has become scarce in the region in general.

But the program plans to fund a winter hunt after Christmas and another hunt in the spring, with Feeding Nunavut now registered as a local non-profit charity.

“The hunters are really happy to see a support program back,” Barker-Sheaves said.

“There are more hunters we wish we could provide the tools and resources to get out there. There’s so much room to expand, we just need to tap into those funds.”

Newman is already in touch with HTAs in two other communities who are interested in piloting their own harvesting programs.

In the first year it launched, Feeding Nunavut raised more than $13,000 towards feeding communities in Nunavut.

But fundraising has taken a hit as the organization shifts the focus to country food.

While southern Canadians have been generous with their food and cash donations, not all of them understand and agree with Inuit hunting culture.

Newman said she’s had to reconsider what sort of images she uses on the website; images of hunters harvesting a seal seem to discourage donors, she said.

“I don’t think the South understands how important hunting is to the North,” she said. “Nutrition is important and every bite counts.”

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