Nain community freezer helps tackle food insecurity while enhancing sharing tradition
Samples are also taken from seals for scientific purposes
The community freezer in Nain is helping people to feed their families in a region that struggles with access to affordable food, while building on an Inuit tradition of sharing food.
Arctic char, seal and moose are just some of what is offered, depending on availability.
Carla Pamak, Inuit research adviser for the Nunatsiavut Government, says the freezer can see upwards of 500 people per month in the town of about 1,100, and although some may be repeat customers, there is no limit on how many times people can access it.
"It don't matter if you're working or not working, you can come and access the community freezer, there's no judgment put on anybody who wants meat from the freezer," Pamak told Labrador Morning.
And there is a need.
A Nunatsiavut survey released in 2017 found that households in Nain and Hopedale had 75 per cent and 83 per cent rates of food insecurity, respectively, while nearly 60 per cent of all households struggle with access to food on Labrador's north coast.
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Pamak said logs are kept for those who access the meat — recording information like if they're employed or unemployed, if they're a senior or how many people are in their household — to track the need for a community freezer.
"Even if people are working, we don't judge them or anything, because living up here in an isolated community like Nain, the cost of living up there, it's hard to get out on the land," she said.
Harvesting wild food
Pamak said gas is provided to hunters to get meat for the freezer, as not everyone has a snowmobile or the means to be able to pay for bullets and fuel.
She said the freezer also fills a need for people that can't get caribou anymore, adding that it's harder for families to sustain themselves without the staple.
But Pamak said the community freezer has two moose licenses and always sees an influx of people when moose harvested in Newfoundland is available.
Before leaving for a trip to Hebron at the Nain wharf, fisherman Joey Angnatok said contributing to the freezer gives him a good feeling, adding that sharing has always been part of Inuit culture.
"I was always taught by my elderly peers that whatever you harvest, whether it's just one animal, you share it. Like if you take enough for yourself, and you can share it to 20 people, you share it with 20 people. And then you go out another time and you do the same thing," he said.
Angnatok also said wild meat helps to offset the cost of food in a place that sees high food prices at the stores.
Wild meat, it's the best. It's healthier than what we can buy in the stores.- Megan Dicker
He remembers the wharf being full of people when he arrived with some muktuk — whale skin and blubber — he'd harvested during one of his trips.
"Just makes you feel good at the end of the day," he said.
Pamak said a community freezer doesn't take away from the traditional food sharing networks..
"It's also enhancing it," she said.
"You don't have to feel like you're going out asking for food from someone else in the community. Here it's like you can come in and get what you need when you need it."
Over the past few years, Pamak said, the community freezer has partnered with Nunatsiavut Government's Department of Economic Development to purchase Arctic char from the local fish plant in Nain, and the fish is sent to all of the community freezers on the coast.
NunatuKavut Community Council also provides cod in exchange for char, and Pamak said that's shared with all of the community freezers in Nunatsiavut, as well.
She said people rely on the freezer, and admits it's hard to tell someone there's no food available when hunters can't get out on the land during freeze up or break-up times.
"It's helping with food security in our community. It's helping with people being able to feed their families. It gives us a sense of pride in the sense that we can offer that service free of charge to whoever needs it," she said.
And people in Nain are grateful for it.
Paul Tuglavina, who also drops by the community freezer a couple of times a week. is thrilled with the freezer.
"Very amazing. I like to have wild stuff in here, seal meat or moose meat," he said.
Seals for science
Housed in the Nain Research Centre, the community freezer is also used to store samples taken for research purposes.
Ringed seals are tested for contaminants like mercury through the federal government's Northern Contaminants Program, which happens in Inuit communities across the North.
A ringed seal's kidneys, part of the muscle and liver, blubber and the lower jaw gets sampled, and are sent out to a laboratory to be tested while the rest of the animal is prepared for the community freezer.
"The seals that we get here in Nain are below the averages for mercury so we're doing good," Pamak said.
Wings of migratory birds are also collected for research purposes so after a wing sample is taken, she notes the rest of the bird goes into the community freezer so there's no wastage.
Even the seal skin is put in the freezer so it can be used for making crafts, while others parts like the intestines are cleaned and put in the freezer.
Learning traditional skills
Pamak said getting youth involved to help out in the community freezer is important so they can learn the local knowledge of cutting up a seal, moose or polar bear or whatever else comes into the freezer.
Megan Dicker, 21, was happy to help her prepare the meat. She's also doing contract work for Imappivut (Our Oceans) — a marine planning initiative of the Nunatsiavut Government based at the Nain Research Centre.
Dicker was inspired to see Pamak — who also happens to be her aunt — cut up a seal, as she describes it a skill that will "last forever".
"We all need to eat. This is a really important skill for everyone to learn so it's nice to see," Dicker said.
"Wild meat, it's the best. It's healthier than what we can buy in the stores. We know where it comes from, we know the source, we know it's how harvested, how it's cut up and how it's shared, so that aspect makes our meals more hardy."