Nunavut holds second round of food price protests

Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan says Nutrition North program is working and calls complaints 'illegitimate.'

Aboriginal Affairs minister says complaints about Nutrition North 'illegitimate'

Residents of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, stage a protest against the high price of food in their community on June 21. (Daniel Kulluruqtuq)

Protests against the high cost of food took place in communities across Nunavut again yesterday.

In Iqaluit, Israel Mablick wore a sign that read "True North Strong and Expensive." It's a sentiment that was shared by the 30 or so protesters who marched across the street from Iqaluit's NorthMart.

"Right now, my two younger ones, they don't have diapers on. I can't afford it right now," said Mablick. "So hopefully after this protest, we can make some changes in the prices and I'll be able to afford diapers for my kids."

Leesee Papatsie started all this with a Facebook page called Feeding My Family. She said she has seen some prices drop since the first protest two weeks ago. 

"I know the cucumber here has changed," she said. "It's $2.99, whereas before it used to be anywhere from $4 to $6 depending on the season."

People also demonstrated in communities such as Pond Inlet and Pangnirtung, even Calgary.

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, showed up briefly at the Iqaluit protest yesterday. He said he plans to speak with the major retailers "to see if we can work towards passing on savings."

A Nunavut government-sponsored food security coalition is meeting next week for the first time and members of the Feeding My Family organization have been invited to join.

Pond Inlet, Nunavut also held a protest against high food prices Thursday.

Nunavut MP and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who was in Iqaluit yesterday to make an announcement about funding for aboriginal health research, said she was proud of Nunavummiut for standing up to and questioning the price of food on the shelves, but she wouldn't be visiting the protest.

"I’ve been protesting since 2000, and that’s a long time, in trying to deal with this very situation," she said.

"We have come a long way in that people on the ground are asking the questions and that in itself is a huge accomplishment if we’re going to hold retailers accountable in passing on the subsidies to their customers."   

MPs question Duncan

In Ottawa, two NDP MPs raised the issue Thursday during Question Period in the House of Commons.

Carol Hughes, the NDP MP for Kapuskasing, Ont., said a loaf of bread is still going for $7 in some communities. She said even country food can be expensive because of the high cost of gas and gear and called the poverty in these communities staggering.

Niki Ashton, MP for Churchill, Man., said northerners are holding unprecedented protests because they're fed up with the high costs of food and the federal government's failure to act.

"Will the minister of Aboriginal Affairs stand here and do two things? One, recognizing this government's failure to act when it comes to having accessible healthy  food to Northern communities  and two, show some leadership with this government and put an end to third world conditions that aboriginal people face today."

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan replied that the NDP were "full of overblown rhetoric."

"We have a letter today that was published by the Stanton Group, an Inuit-owned food retailer in the Northwest Territories. In the first year of the NNC program — the Nutrition North program — we've seen savings of up to 35 per cent on perishable food such as fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs." 

Duncan said these savings have been passed on to Northern residents and the program is working well.

"The evidence is now in that we have changed eating habits so that people are choosing healthier foods. The evidence is in that the price of those foods is reduced, the program is working, and these complaints are illegitimate," he said.