Program gives Inuit community in Ottawa greater access to traditional cuisine

Come rain, shine, or even snow they can be found lining up outside every Wednesday morning in Ottawa’s Vanier district.

They’re members of the Inuit community in Ottawa and they are there to access traditional foods that are largely only available in Canada’s far north.

Since last August, a community organization called Tungasuvvingat Inuit has been offering a food security program with the goal of giving greater access to such foods as muktuk, caribou and arctic char.

“The first week we opened we served 30 people and now we’re serving about 100 people a week,” TI food security manager Rhonda Huneault says.  “That can vary – our highest number, which was 155 people, we served the week after Christmas.”

Huneault says rapidly rising food prices is definitely one of the reasons for the growing popularity of the program.

A 2022 Canada Food Price Report published by Dalhousie University estimates the cost of basic groceries will rise between five and seven per cent this year.

“What we have recognized, due to the fact that the cost of food has gone up so much, that people who weren’t food insecure before – Inuit who were able to buy groceries and food for their family whenever they wanted to – are now finding themselves in a situation where the cost of groceries has gone up so much,” she says.

One of her team members Billy Akavak says the other reason more and more Inuit are accessing the food program is the COVID-19 pandemic itself.

He says during normal times Ottawa’s Inuit community would eat traditional foods and socialize during monthly outdoor feasts.

But these are not normal times and a feast has not been held in nearly two years.

Akavak says with no community events happening and people largely stuck at home, going to TI’s Vanier office each week is about seeing other community members as much as it is about the food itself.

“Being in contact with other Inuit is very important but it is hard with COVID,” he says. “It is really nice to see them picking up country food from us. It makes people really happy.”

Because of the pandemic, Huneault says the food security program is the only one TI is offering in person at the moment.

She says even though the program is held outside, the organization is fully aware that there are still risks involved.

But at the end of the day, the benefits outweigh the risks, Huneault says.

“When we were in our full lockdown and we only delivered from home, we didn’t have our eyes on the community for almost a year. And it’s really important to have that connection. When we re-opened in August, you could tell that community members had not seen each other in a long time.”

Tungasuvvingat Inuit’s food security program runs every Wednesday starting at 10 a.m.

Mornings are for elders and afternoons the Inuit general public.

The program is open to all Inuit people living in the Ottawa area.

For more information, go to the Tungasuvvingat Inuit website.

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