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A family walks along the road in Taloyoak.   Brandon Laforest/WWF-Canada

Harvesting country foods

In Taloyoak, we’ve always been going on the land. We are not farmers, that’s where our food comes from. As soon as it starts to warm up, we go out fishing and hunting. In the past 50 years, we’ve gone from dog teams to iPhones. It’s a big drastic change. But the environment is changing, too, and affecting our food security. Now, after being awarded $451,000 from the Arctic Inspiration Prize, we have funding for our plan to change it back. 

 Our community is located right in the migratory route of the Ahiak caribou herd who come every summer to their calving ground in Aviqtuuq (Boothia Peninsula). But it is not only caribou — many species have offspring up here: seals, muskox, birds, and plenty of fish. Yet despite our abundant wildlife — and our rich history and traditions based on hunting and gathering — many residents of Taloyoak cannot access country food, only expensive store food flown in from the south. 

Lake Trout freshly caught in Jekyll Lake, north of Taloyoak.   Guillaume Lalibert /ArctiConnexion

Climate change is impacting our water, our land, and now our culture and our food. As never before, it is getting harder to go out hunting in Taloyoak. I’m the manager of the Spence Bay Hunter and Trapper Association and every day we talk about how much it costs. Climate change is also threatening our hunters’ safety as the land, lakes, and ice become more dangerous to travel on, and the wildlife harder to find. 

But country foods are the healthiest for us — caribou, fish, seal. We simply catch and eat it fresh, and it has no additives in it. It is the reason why we are here. It’s a big deal here, not only for Elders but for youth too. 

For many years now it’s been talked about getting back to the basics of livelihood and diet. So, to keep our tradition alive we came up with Niqihaqut, which means “our food” in Inuktitut. But how were we going to start it? Where were we going to get the funds? The Arctic Inspiration Prize was mentioned, so we went for it with high hopes. 

Niqihaqut fits with our beliefs and our needs as an Inuit community, and they agreed. We’re still dreaming, we can’t believe we won! Maybe it’s because it is an inspirational project for all? It is simply people helping people. 

Our community’s priority is to adapt to climate change by developing new ways to improve country food access for all, especially low‐income families, while supporting our hunters. We also must monitor the land and the environment so that the wildlife is in good health. Niqihaqut will create a country food‐based economy based on a sustainable and respectful harvest and a modern cut‐and‐wrap facility to prepare and distribute this food throughout Taloyoak. 

It will improve our people’s health and well‐being and will also help lay the groundwork for our proposed Aviqtuuq Inuit Protected and Conserved Area, which would cover nearly 90,000 square kilometres of ocean, freshwater, rivers, and land — and put Inuit in charge of managing it. 

This is needed because warming temperatures are not the only threat from climate change. The loss of ice in the nearby Northwest Passage will also bring shipping traffic and the dangers of vessels striking whales or, even worse, High Arctic oil spills that we are not equipped to clean up. 

Niqihaqut team member and youth representative Tad Tulurialik along with Laisa Jayko on a caribou hunting trip in Aviqtuuq.   Guillaume Lalibert /ArctiConnexion

The peninsula is also coveted by the mining industry who have exploration claims over our land, and we are very concerned about what this could bring to our future, to our food. We’re trying to protect Aviqtuuq from industrial development, which could devastate the caribou population, but we need an alternative income. 

These projects will feed more families, create jobs, and reduce poverty in the community while keeping our culture and traditions alive for generations to come. Growing up here is very beautiful, it’s our home, and it is common sense to protect it and our way of life. 

VIAJimmy Oleekatalik
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