An APTN program that showed people scrounging for food at the dump in Rankin Inlet has some people in Nunavut slamming the response from their MP, others hailing the network for raising the issue and still others saying the show unfairly dramatized hunger in the territory.
In the program, called Wasting Away, Rankin Inlet Deputy Mayor Sam Tutanuak says high food prices are forcing people to look for nourishment at the landfill.
Since then, several people have pointed out that many Nunavummiut have visited landfills for years to scavenge for building materials or other salvageable goods — and taking free food when it’s available in good condition. Some communities even refer to their landfill as "The Canadian Tire.”
It was a common experience for Noel Kaludjak of Rankin Inlet, who says his father would often go salvaging at the dump when he was growing up.
"Sometimes we find very edible food that are still in seals and very usable,” he says. “You can tell by looking at it if it looks good or not and when you take it home you can look at it more and if it's edible we'll eat it. It’s OK.”
But the idea of going to the dump specifically to look for food is causing rifts.
“I’ve never seen that and I was shocked to see it,” said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq in an interview with CBC.
“I immediately phoned the hamlet of Rankin Inlet to get to the bottom of the issue as I was not aware.”
That call became the subject of controversy, with APTN reporting that Aglukkaq demanded an apology, and Aglukkaq strenuously denying that, saying she's considering legal options.
People should not be ashamed
In a call to CBC’s Talkback Line, Buffy Uttak Angutiqjuaq of Igloolik said in Inuktitut that she was fed food from the dump because that was all her grandfather could afford. Uttak said people should not be ashamed about scavenging, and slammed Aglukkaq for not knowing that people in Nunavut are going hungry.
Still others point to poverty caused by addictions, gambling and unemployment as the root cause of hunger in the territory, rather than the cost of food.
Former territorial cabinet minister Manitok Thompson, who now lives in Alberta, took offence at the idea that Nunavut’s elders are reduced to picking food from the dump.
“I realize there are people that don’t have enough food on the table for children,” she told the CBC Nunavut's Talkback line, “but sometimes it has a lot to do with not being able to manage their finances.”
Thompson blames gambling and addictions, on top of high food prices, for the fact that children go to school hungry.
Emily Tagoona of Rankin Inlet says she was caught off guard by the program.
She says people in Rankin Inlet are generous to those who don’t have enough to eat. She also says gambling takes a lot of money away from groceries.
“We’ve got bingo three to four times a week here and they raise lots of money,” Tagoona says. “They’ll spend their money foolishly because they’re gonna rely on somebody else to feed them. There’s too much of that.”
But, the fact remains: people in Nunavut pay the most for groceries in the country, around $14,000 a year per household.