Mother in Kugluktuk, Nunavut pinches pennies every day to get by

Living in the remote community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut fuel, shelter, goods and travel cost a small fortune, so, when Maya Taletok was told she was on the hook for a medical travel expense she was forced to make some tough decisions.

“We had an appointment in Edmonton to get dental done for my son and I asked if Maya [her daughter] could be rebooked because I wanted the two of children to fly out at the same time,” Mary Taletok said. “I waited three months and when I called, I was told I needed to pay a $300 rebooking fee.”

She wondered how she’d come up with the cash, as the sole provider for her four kids and child tax benefits that are spent in under two days on bills

Taletok’s five-year-old daughter Maya, has waited since November 2021, to travel south for and be put to sleep for critical dental work.

“I was scared, seeing my child in pain from an abscessed tooth. And then at the time she had the abscess she wasn’t eating and there were times where she cried because she was hungry,” Taletok said.

Taletok with her family in Kugluktuk, Nunavut. She’s struggling with high prices. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

Taletok said she reached out to the health centre and requested financial support for the rebooking fee but was turned away.

And left her to bear the weight of paying the dental fee while feeding her four children on a shoestring budget.

“There were times I was at the store, and if I need even one of my children needed a warm pair of boots, I’d stress out because I’d have to decide should I get the food now, or should I get their boots now,” she said.

Kugluktuk is located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in western Nunavut.

According to the latest statistics from the territory’s food security coalition, nearly 70 per cent of Inuit homes in the territory are food insecure.

Airfare is also six to ten times more expensive than ground freight in other remote regions.

Residents wait with anticipation for the annual sealift delivery where they will collect bulk orders of goods and large ticket items at a significantly lower price.

One of two grocery stores in Kugluktuk, a 1,600-person isolated arctic community in western Nunavut. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

But this year the community has paid more for less with recent inflation making it difficult for any amount of cost savings.

Kimnek Klengenberg is a young mother who has tried to get ahead.

She waited for more than a year for a public housing unit to become available in Iqaluit but ultimately found refuge with her grandparents in Kugluktuk.

The 23-year-old has worked at the northern store, on and off for five years.

The northern store owned by NorthWest Company, along with the co-op are the two grocery stores in town.

“When the [northern] store orders sealift, they do it ahead by year, but you still have to make sure the store has enough food for the community,” Klengenberg said. “You have to keep an eye on timing, a couple of weeks ago there was an issue with weather down south, so we didn’t get freight for like a week and the store is empty.”

In her experience, when the store risks losing money, it’s the community who pays the price.

“For meat, they re-freeze it, and resell it at full price, which is very unhealthy and that can happen three or four times a month. It depends on the person ordering, if people are buying junk food, we’re going to bring in a lot of junk food,” she said.

Kimnek Klengenberg waited more than a year for lodging in Kugluktuk. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

Klengenberg noted, finding reliable childcare was stressful and to get ahead she would work doubles, sometimes upwards of 16 hours, but could barely pay her bills.

“Stores will help with housing and food for workers from down south, but not if you’re from here. There’s one lady who lived in the community and went down self for training to be in management and get housing, so there’s a way around it, but you have to commit,” Klengenerg said.

To get ahead, Klengenberg recently began a new job with Canada Post and Taletok has recently completed a two-month pre-employment course with hopes of securing a job with the territorial government.

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