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Learning to live from the land improves food security in Nunavut

Published on April 01, 2014

A young Inuit boy holds up a freshly caught fish. Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society.Living From the Land camper Mahik shows off a fish he caught (Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

By Celeste Longhurst

In a country as vast as Canada, sustainable living has many different definitions—especially when it comes to food. Nowhere is this more obvious than in our North, where food costs are extremely high and fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. In addition, many of these grocery store foods have little cultural significance for local communities.

Enter the Living From the Land Project and the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region. In the summer of 2013, the Society embarked on a journey to connect local youth with elders in order to teach them about traditional ways of living from the land. For 10 days, elders worked with youth to share traditional stories, taught them how to set fishnets, hunt wildlife and fashion traditional tools and clothing at a camp set along the coastline outside of the town of Cambridge Bay.

Inuit elders pose in front of their camp tents at sunset. Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society.Camp participants pose with the first sunset of the summer (Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

The project is an exciting new initiative for the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, building on their long history of working to preserve the Inuinnaqtun culture and heritage since 1995. One of the key tenets of preserving their culture is to focus on the Inuit worldviews of Ilippalianginnarniq (continuing learning) and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional and modern Inuit knowledge) through an intergenerational approach. Elders work directly with youth to pass on traditional culture and knowledge.

Brendan Griebel, executive director of the Society, says, “The opportunity to attend the camp and learn traditional skills was incredibly therapeutic for many of the participants. Being out on the land allowed the elders to take pride in caring for themselves and other campers, and provided them with few distractions to remembering stories and more traditional aspects of their lives. The children regained their attention spans and sense of focus, taking time to listen to the stories of elders and learn from their example.”

Two young Inuit girls play on the tundra with a black labrador puppy. Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society.Children play with the Living From the Land camp puppy (Photo: Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

It can be challenging for northern communities to secure funding for projects. As Brendan noted, the requirements and expectations of many southern funders often "do not align with what is both realistic and possible in an Arctic setting.” But Brendan found that the Walmart–Evergreen Green Grants program was “very willing to accommodate an Arctic vision of sustainability and community development, despite the fact that it was a far cry from the projects typically funded.”

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s Living From The Land project is Evergreen’s first-ever grant recipient in Nunavut, and we are honoured to be able to support this vital work to ensure the survival of traditional Inuit culture and improve food security in Canada’s North for generations to come.