Food security and the Nutrition North program are top of mind for voters in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, where hunters say the high cost of store-bought food is putting pressure on them to provide country food for their families.

Factor in the high cost of hunting equipment and operating a snowmobile or boat, as well as a moratorium on hunting Baffin Island caribou, and hunters feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"It's almost like you have to gamble your luck," said local hunter Brian Koonoo.

"Depends if you want to spend some money on gas and hopefully catch some food for your family. But sometimes we're not always successful. So it's quite difficult and we have to buy food."

Koonoo left Baffin Island this past winter to hunt caribou legally in an area near Igloolik. But after his snowmobile broke down on the land, and a blizzard wiped out his tracks, he knew his chances of being spotted by search and rescue were slim. So, Koonoo walked about 60 kilometres to safety in Naujaat.

"Last winter was very difficult for me to travel long distances to hunt," Koonoo said. "I actually had to survive out there."

He hopes his experience shows people the lengths hunters go to to feed not only their families, but other people in the community.

"If we're successful, it gets more food not just for my family. If I'm more successful, I can get food for everyone."

'The pressure is on to provide for their families'

While the high cost of groceries is pushing hunters to go out on the land, it's also discouraging them.

"One of the main pressures hunters have is you have to rely on store-bought food to go hunting," said local hunter Jaykolasie Killiktee, speaking in Inuktitut through a translator.

"Their mind and soul are so eager to go hunting and the pressure is on to provide for their families, and also [we have] a pretty good population that still rely on country food as part of their daily diet," Killiktee said.

"But the pressure of needing to buy your supplies before leaving on a hunt, that holds hunters back sometimes. So the pressure is being felt."

caribou antlers Pond Inlet Nunavut

One of the caribou hunted by a group of hunters in Pond Inlet. The community was given 30 tags by the Nunavut government. (Nick Murray/CBC)

All three major federal election parties have laid out their plans to address the Nutrition North program: the Liberals promised $40 million over four years; the Conservatives promised a $32 million boost; and the NDP committed to a comprehensive review.

But those promises mean nothing to Killiktee, who's heard it all before.

"Every election time, we're always being told, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to fix this' etcetera," Killiktee said.

"It happens so often and we see so many times that these promises aren't being kept. So there's a mixed emotion feeling."

Not enough tags

Like many communities in Nunavut, Pond Inlet received 30 tags to hunt caribou this year after the territorial government relaxed the hunting moratorium in August. But many in the community say that's simply not enough.

Last week, a group of hunters returned with five caribou, noting they saw many more while they were on the hunt.

The hamlet has used 10 tags so far, saving the rest for when the ice freezes over.

But the five hunted made for a great community feast Friday night at Nasivvik High School.

About a hundred people came out to eat caribou boiled, broiled, raw and frozen.

Priority is always given to elders, but with so many mouths to feed, the latecomers were left with only the scraps.

community feast Nasivvik High School in pond inlet nunavut

About 100 people went to a community feast at Nasivvik High School last Friday, after five caribou were hunted. (Nick Murray/CBC)