Ottawa residents learn about Nunavut food prices
Inuit protesters gather on Parliament Hill June 9
People in Ottawa were shocked to learn about the high price of food in Nunavut on June 9 when Jane Kigutaq and four other women went to protest against the territory’s food prices on Parliament Hill.
There, about 60 people showed up, providing “a lot of support,” Kigutaq said.
Before going to Parliament Hill, the women first met at the Bronson Centre to make signs and print materials from the “Feeding my family” Facebook group page, which now lists more than 20,000 members.
At noon they headed towards Parliament where Kigutaq, along with Julie Ivalu, Simona Arnatsiaq, Kukuk Uviluq and Deborah Tagornak, wanted to show support for those who demonstrated in Nunavut that day.
“They were shocked at the prices, absolutely shocked,” Kigutaq said about the reaction to the image of the $105 case of bottled water from Clyde River, reproduced from a posted photo on “Feeding my family.”
But Kigutaq also met criticism: some people asked her why anyone would want to buy a case of bottled water when they could presumably get the same thing from natural sources.
They didn’t realize that some communities lack good drinking water and must have water delivered, she said.
Kigutaq was pleased with the June 9 turnout, given that there was only a few days of organizing.
And a second protest is now planned in Ottawa for June 21, National Aboriginal Day, when Kigutaq hopes to see even more participation from Inuit and non-Inuit alike.
Kigutaq, who is originally from Arctic Bay, but has lived in Ottawa for 13 years with her four children, collected 60 signatures to document who showed up to the June 9 protest. Another woman collected an additional 120 signatures.
Gaining support from people in the South is important, she said.That’s why Kigutaq went from person to person gathering signatures and “just telling them the ridiculous prices they have up North.”
However, Kigutaq didn’t recall seeing any politicians at the June 9 protest. “I was hoping that Leona would at least show up, but no show.”
Still, Kigutaq believes the message that Nunavut is unhappy with its food costs is getting out there.
“I believe that our voices are starting to get heard,” she said. “Every time I read a comment or whatever I feel like crying, it’s just too much.”
So far, some prices have dropped in the North and expired items have been removed from northern food shelves, she said.
“That’s exactly what we are trying to do,” she said.
Since June 9, Kigutaq, Ivalu, Arnatsiaq, Uviluq and Tagornak have also decided to form a group in Ottawa to gather food donations for people in Nunavut.
Kigutaq has already started contacting grocery stores who might be interested in helping with a food drive.
“My main goal is to get food banks started up North so that each community has a food bank,” she said, adding that 18 of 26 Nunavut communities don’t have one. “Although it is a short-term solution, at least it is something.”
When Kigutaq worked as a cashier at the co-op in Arctic Bay six years ago, a small bag of sugar cost about $4.20. Now it’s over $18, she said.
“I want to stop the hunger that is going on everywhere in the North. I know what it is like up there,” she said.
It’s most important for the children, Kigutaq said. Because a lot of babies in Nunavut are adopted, they must be fed formula, prompting one woman on “Feed My Family” to suggest starting an “adopt-a-family” program to provide things like formula and diapers.