Country Foods: Sale of Game in the North Leaves Inuit Society Conflicted

Article excerpt

Sale of game puts Inuit at crossroads

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IQALUIT, Nunavut - The hunter grabs one of his delicacies by its furry, frozen ear and waves it in the air.

"Caribou heads for sale!" he cries. "Caribou heads for sale!"

Eager for the makings of a tasty soup, customers flock to his table at an open-air market in Iqaluit, where fresh-from-the-land food has been on occasional offer since 2010. Tables piled with caribou, seabirds, seaweed, seal -- the "country foods" of the traditional Inuit diet -- sell out in minutes.

Meanwhile, Facebook groups for the buying, selling and trading of country foods from fish eggs to muskox now have thousands of members.

A whole caribou? Without the hide, $300. Arctic char? Each fish, $20.

Faced with the growing cost of gas for their snowmobiles and bullets for their guns, Inuit hunters are increasingly putting their harvest up for sale.

Some say it's a good way to keep hunters on the land, office-bound Inuit in touch with their roots and people from going hungry in communities where store-bought groceries are expensive.

Others worry about the safety of uninspected meat and the possible overhunting of now-valuable game animals.

And some call selling game a betrayal of sacred Inuit traditions.

"People that are still thinking in the old tradition say that it's not the Inuit way of life to sell to others," said James Eetoolook of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which looks after the Nunavut land claim. "You have to share what you have."

Sharing a hunt's bounty is still common. But under their land claim, Inuit also have the right to sell it.

A recent study by the Royal Society of Canada suggested that might be one way to increase the overall food supply and ensure all Inuit can feed their families.

Research has found nearly three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in homes without a sure supply of food. Half of youths between 11 and 15 sometimes go to bed hungry. Two-thirds of Inuit parents also told a survey that they sometimes ran out of food and couldn't afford more.

"If people can't get their traditional country food with their own family, then they have to get it somewhere," said co-author Harriet Kuhlein.

"To commoditize it will help some people get it. It's one part of the picture."

Will Hyndman, who organizes the Iqaluit market, said there are many reasons it's so popular.

"In Iqaluit, there's a lot of Inuit who come from other communities. They might not have their own gear or they don't know the land around here or they're separated from their traditional sharing circle. …