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Food and Country

Access to affordable and nutritious food across Canada’s Inuit communities is a longstanding problem. Traditional foods, once the backbone of Inuit nutrition and cultural cohesion associated with hunting and sharing, are increasingly impacted by numerous factors not limited to climate change and  contamination of local food sources as a result of pollutants entering the food chain. Together, exposure to these risks contributes to the dwindling supply of this once-reliable source of nutritious food. Moreover, the cost of Western-style imported foods is exorbitant. The high cost of transportation to remote areas, coupled with low household incomes, has led to a crisis in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Access to food is not only essential to human existence, but it is also a human rights issue enshrined in numerous U.N. instruments. Nutrition North Canada is a government-funded program that provides isolated Northern communities increased access to nutritious food. Terry Audla argues that with the recent election of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, there is a renewed sense of hope that improvements to the administration of Nutrition North will demonstrate Canada’s capacity as a fully functioning democracy.

This piece was originally published on Linkedin.

By Terry Audla 

I start my post with the following Isaiah Berlin quote:

"Let us have the courage of our admitted ignorance, of our doubts and uncertainties. At least we can try to discover what others … require, by …. making it possible for ourselves to know men as they truly are, by listening to them carefully and sympathetically, and understanding them and their lives and their needs, one by one individually."

The controversy over the issue of food security in the Canadian Arctic is not the first time Inuit have been in the spotlight relating to their level of under-privilege. I need not mention the decision-makers because it is not my intention here to level criticism against anyone or any party in particular, but rather to talk about values that I acquired and assumed as I was growing up in the High Arctic community of Resolute Bay and in the school system where I was educated.

Up until recently, I took for granted, like millions of my fellow Canadians, that our pluralistic society and the rights and freedoms we enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were above partisan attack, indeed above political wrangling, and that the words, "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" were a high enough standard to warrant a certain level of smug complacency (though I think most Canadians would prefer "easy-going" attitude) in expectation of their guarantee. After all, Canada has a proud history of joining wars, and not joining unjust wars, to secure our future as a democracy. It speaks volumes of how precious the peaceable, caring, and tolerant society of Canada (the land and the idea) is. I think all aboriginal groups, if they have any generosity at all toward Canada, naturally buy into these ideals that define us. I know that Inuit certainly do; they are values and ideals that define a healthy family and community. They are what make us who and what we are.

A certain amount of altruism defines and informs us as Inuit within Canada. I believe in the common law and the words that comprise our Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms not because they are words with which I agree (and I do), but because they are perspectives necessitated by alternatives we would very quickly find intolerable. Without these words and the meanings they convey, Canada would not survive long as a civil society.

We have seen a weakening of our constitution and values. The increasing isolationism, the rise of belligerency in our voice in the world, and the trampling of rights of the most vulnerable in our society are things so unexpected and un-Canadian. We've not had much time to respond in defense of our much-espoused values as a country of excellent standing on the world stage. When rapporteurs of the United Nations who have always come and audited our social and political programs submit what they've submitted every five years, they are received as unwanted guests, told they do not know what they're talking about, and told they had best stay in their splendid ivory towers. The impression we get is that the United Nations' busybodies are targeting Canada because of our previous federal government under Stephen Harper. As a member of the United Nations, Canada has invited monitors to audit not only the federal government but also the provincial and territorial governments to gauge our progress in implementing the numerous declarations that the U.N. votes on from time to time, such as the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

The reports of people in the Inuit communities who have had to sometimes rummage through the local dump for edible food is ironic given that it was a couple of years ago the U.N. rapporteur who was dismissed in a rather undignified manner spoke of the exact issue of food security in aboriginal communities in Canada. I write "reports of people in Inuit communities" because it is not just one community where people have done this; a $28 head of lettuce will drive anyone to rummage for food, really.

For Inuit, a life of hardship, hunger, and poverty is not something new. I have not forgotten this sad reality. We must never forget it. As an advocate for Inuit rights and our aspirations to fully become Canadians, with equality under the law and all this status promises, I choose Canada's pluralistic and altruistic traditions over hyper-partisanship. Our problems will not be solved by talking points, only by hard work in the context of a fully functional democracy called Canada.

Canadians voted out Prime Minister Harper, and voted Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals into parliament as a majority, based on the hope that things will change.

Nutrition North can be fixed! 

*****

*****

Terry Audla is the recent past President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and former Chief Executive Officer of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. He was born in Frobisher Bay, NWT and raised in Resolute Bay.  

Erica Dingman, author of the preface to this piece, is a senior research fellow at World Policy Institute and directs the Arctic in Context initiative.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia]

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