Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protests as cabbage hits $20

Movement in Nunavut grows as weekly grocery bills soar

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IQALUIT, Nunavut -- A head of cabbage for $20. Fifteen bucks for a small bag of apples. A case of ginger ale: $82.

Fed up and frustrated by sky-high food prices and concerned over widespread hunger in their communities, thousands of Inuit have spent weeks posting pictures and price tags from their local grocery stores to a Facebook site called Feed My Family.

That site is now the nucleus of an unprecedented protest across Nunavut, organized for today, to draw attention to food prices that would shock most southerners.

"This is traditionally not the Inuit way, I understand that," said Leesee Papatsie, the 44-year-old Iqaluit mother of four who's organizing the event. "But we're trying to get Nunavummiut to step forward and say 'Hey, food is too expensive."'

Papatsie wants Inuit in every community in Nunavut to stand together outside their local grocery store this afternoon. A similar event is being organized in Ottawa.

Weeks after the federal government dismissed concerns from a United Nations representative about food insecurity in Canada's North, turnout at the protest could be impressive. More than 10,000 people have joined the Feed My Family site -- over a third of Nunavut's entire population.

"Food insecurity is so prevalent," said Nunavut's territorial nutritionist, Jennifer Wakegijig, who tabled a report on the issue this week in the Nunavut legislature.

It found nearly three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in food-insecure homes. Half of youths 11 to 15 years old sometimes go to bed hungry. Two-thirds of Inuit parents also told a McGill University survey they sometimes ran out of food and couldn't afford more.

"Every Inuit in Nunavut knows someone in their family or in their community that is hungry that day," said Papatsie.

Poverty and food security are now at the centre of the territorial government's agenda. A "Food Security Coalition" has been formed with representatives from six different government departments, as well as Inuit organizations.

A wealthier territory could go a long way to making Arctic hunger history. Ed McKenna of the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction points out that mineral exploration in Nunavut is likely to create much-needed jobs. But he admits it will take more than one booming industry to fix the problem.

"Poverty reduction amounts to more than just an issue around income," he said. "Poverty has lots of different dimensions and we need to take a holistic approach."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 A25

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