The basics in life: Food and shelter

Looking further into Nain’s food system, we discovered the town has a community food freezer, to store hunted meat and then distribute to families without food. The cooperative that runs this communal freezer gives out bullets (for hunting) and gas (for vehicles) to allow villagers to go into the wild and cull birds and other wildlife and then come back and store safely before they’re distributed to families in need. At the moment these freezers, like the shelves in Northern store, are quite bare.

Local families are relying on hunting and handouts to support their income. The reason that the Northern’s supermarket is not only empty on the shelves but also empty in the aisles, is that people simply cannot afford the food that’s left. At $3.75 Canadian per avocado, there is waste from over priced goods and rumbling tummies at the same time. 46% of households with children are reported to be food insecure in Inuit families.  They weren’t just fishing for fun on the dock, the large number of people all day on the edge of the peir was out of necessity.

In addition to finding food, housing is also a challenge. One in three Inuit in Canada live in crowded conditions, compared to the general population at 3% (Knotsch and Kinnon, 2011). With limited houses available sometimes up to 15 people are in one small house. Living in cramped quarters, Inuit endure the most crowded housing conditions in Canada with a toll that’s paid health wise by the children, particularly for severe lower respiratory tract infections and infant mortality (3 times the rest of Canada) (Knotsch and Kinnon, 2011).  The housing shortage stems partially back to when Inuit were moved to today’s 53 communities in Inuit Nunangat and even further. Factors that contribute include limited local economic opportunities, virtually non-existant local housing markets, insufficient public resourcdes, high building and heating costs, expensive shipping and transportation of materials and geographic remoteness (Knotsch and Kinnon, 2011).

Add to that melting permafrost destabilising your foundations and meaning you have to move, and the situation becomes even more dire.  The lack of housing has been a concern for sixty years in Canada and is now a critical factor that is affecting the future generations of those first moved to the communities in Inuit Nunangat. It seems data, research and inclusion of Inuit-defined set of determinants is lacking, which means policies and programs are a long way from solving this challenge.

To tackle climate change, improved engineering and infrastructure along with town planning is needed to help the communities adapt. Given the backdrop against where the food security and housing challenges sit, there is a long way to go to address the current concerns, let alone plan concurrent impacts that climate change might bring to these issues for the future.

Further reading if you’re interested: If not now…when? Addressingthe ongoing Inuit Housing crisis in Canada. Key Findings. Cathleen Knotsch and Dianne Kinnon, 2011.

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