Inuit Food Security: Vulnerability of the traditional food system to climatic extremes during winter 2010/2011 in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Researchers involved at McGill: Sara Statham (lead), Dr. James Ford (advisor), Graham McDowell (Assistant), Peter Adams (Assistant).

Funding: Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, ArcticNet, Social Sciences and Health Research Council, Northern Scientific Training Program, Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre (GEC3)

Other researchers: William Gough (University of Toronto), Rick Siewierski (University of Toronto)

Significant and rapid climate change is predicted for Arctic regions, and there is mounting evidence that it is already occurring. These changes have implications for Canada's Inuit population, many of whom depend on hunting and fishing for their livelihoods. Specifically, varying environmental conditions inhibit hunters from accessing traditional hunting grounds and alter the natural distribution of wildlife. This hinders Inuit from procuring country food, thus impacting food security. This research assesses how extreme climate conditions during winter 2010/2011 affected the traditional food system in Iqaluit, Nunavut. This case study employs a temporal analogue approach, arguing that in order to predict how climate change may affect communities in the future, it is necessary to understand how they experienced and responded to climatic variability in the past. Therefore, this timeframe is examined as it was anomalous in terms of environmental conditions throughout the Canadian Arctic, and these extreme conditions are expected to become more common with future climate change. This project uses a vulnerability-based approach whereby vulnerability to climate change is a function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Objectives include: 1) characterize the exposure-sensitivity of Iqaluit’s traditional food system to extreme climatic conditions during winter 2010/2011 by comparing recent environmental observations to historical trends; 2) evaluate the adaptive capacity of the traditional food system by identifying coping strategies used by hunters for dealing with climatic extremes and by public housing residents for dealing with food-related stresses; 3) examine how the vulnerability of the traditional food system is influenced by environmental and socioeconomic processes operating at various spatial and temporal scales; 4) explore how the vulnerability of the traditional food system influences Inuit food security; 5) identify what lessons can be learned from winter 2010/2011 in terms of the future implications of the human dimensions of climate change. This mixed-method approach allows scientific knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional Inuit knowledge) to complement each other.

Related Publications

Project News


    Recent Food Security work presented to Environment Minsters from Canada, the US, and Mexico

    2012 August 1

    Sara’s masters research was recently presented before a panel at the Center for Environmental Cooperation’s 2012 Council Session on Community and Ecosystem Resilience in North America. The panel featured Peter Kent (Canada’s Minister of Environment) as well as Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada (Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources in Mexico), and Lisa P. Jackson (Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency).

    Iqaluit’s Food System under Climatic Stress – Dissemination Booklet

    2012 July 11

    Sara’s research was presented this afternoon at the Center for Environmental Cooperation’s 2012 Council Session on Community and Ecosystem Resilience in North America. This booklet was distributed to policymakers and community partners in Iqaluit in the spring of 2012, and shares additional information about this project. It is also available in Inuktitut.

    Sara’s Research in the News

    2012 June 1

    Photo by Sara Statham

    Sara submitted her Master’s thesis last month, and the results of her research have received recent media coverage.

    At the International Polar Year conference in April, Sara was interviewed by Canadian Geographic. She discussed the commercialization of traditional food via social networking websites. Read the blog here.

    Sara also spoke with Nunatsiaq News, and highlighted how “when poor socio-economic conditions are coupled with poor environmental conditions, the traditional food system suffers.” Read the news article here.

    During her dissemination trip in Iqaluit this week, Sara chatted with CBC radio about how last winter’s extreme environmental conditions impacted the food system and sharing networks. Listen to the interview here.

    Inuit Food Security – Sara’s IPY presentation

    2012 April 23

    Sara Statham spoke about her recent completed Masters thesis at the 2012 IPY Montreal conference on Monday April 23, 2012. To learn more about Sara’s work, visit her dissemination website.

    Reflecting on my field work in Iqaluit

    2011 September 21

    This summer, I spent the months of May and June on Baffin Island conducting field work for my Master’s thesis entitled “Inuit Food Security: Vulnerability of the traditional food system to climatic extremes during winter 2010/2011 in Iqaluit, Nunavut.” This was my third time visiting Iqaluit, and I was very eager to return. Previously, I conducted a preliminary consultation trip in February to meet with local stakeholders and further develop my research project. I returned to Iqaluit again in March to present my research proposal to the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association. These two prior trips allowed me to forge relationships and acquaint myself with the community, and were invaluable for preparing me for my field work season. Continue Reading

    Field Notes – February Iqaluit trip

    2011 April 20

    To better prepare for my Master’s thesis research, I came to Iqaluit for a five day consultation trip. Graham McDowell, a fellow member of the Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Research Group, also came to further his involvement with the Iqaluit Land Use Mapping Project (ILMP). Graham planned to go “on the land” with two local Inuuk, Levi and Anu, and I was fortunate enough to be invited on the trip.

    We left Iqaluit in the early afternoon of February 22. The weather conditions were not forecasted to be ideal, with predicted temperatures of -23°C with -35°C wind chill, winds of 37km with 46km gusts, as well as drifting snow. On the sea ice of Frobisher Bay, we had blue skies above and clear visibility ahead. Our destination was one of the smaller bays located northwest of Iqaluit.

    Before we left, Levi had checked the internet to assess the current ice conditions. He had noticed that the sea ice was not completely frozen, so we would have to take an alternative land route instead. It appears as though modern technology has proven to be complementary to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), otherwise known as traditional Inuit knowledge. Continue Reading