Food Security, Climate Change and the Role of Inuit Women in the Canadian Arctic
In many parts of the world, particularly Indigenous communities living in remote areas, food security is compromised. Food security ensures that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the food they need. In Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic, it is based on the accessibility of local residents to both traditional and store-bought foods. Traditional foods still represent the mainstay of the Indigenous diet in many Arctic communities and provide more substantial nutrients than do imported foods. They also feature significantly in the cultural and spiritual life of the community and are integral to the Inuit identity. Over 80% of all Inuit households in northern Canada are classified as ‘food insecure.’
When individuals and/or communities are prevented from, or are unable to access this food supply, food security is threatened. In the past, this has occurred due to the sky-rocketing prices and the poor quality of store-bought foods as well as the lack of equipment such as snowmobiles and rifles used in hunting. But in recent decades, food security has become inextricably linked with climate change. Some of the consequences of climate change in the Arctic include altered migratory patterns of large game animals, the introduction of new diseases and parasites and unstable sea ice conditions. These factors further threaten traditional Inuit livelihoods.
Food security has traditionally been constructed as gender-blind despite the specific and differential roles played by Inuit women and men. In particular, Inuit women have taken the lead in identifying environmental contaminants in animals and fish; diversifying the family income when traditional foods are unavailable; managing family health problems linked to food security and have entered the public sphere in declaring that food security is a basic human right.
Dr. Joanna Kafarowski is an independent scholar and geographer. She has worked extensively with Inuit women in the Canadian Arctic and other Indigenous women throughout the circumpolar region on environmental contaminant issues. She has lectured and written on gender, natural resource management and the Arctic and consulted for international and national organizations including the Arctic Council and Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association. She is the editor of “Gender, Culture and Northern Fisheries” published in 2009 and the author of the first comprehensive biography of a female Arctic explorer published in 2017. Currently, she is completing the first biography of a female Antarctic explorer. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Member of the Society of Woman Geographers and currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.