At this moment I could just cry from pride, sadness and happiness all at the same time. Or I could fall to the floor with exhaustion. Yet I have never felt such a drive or sense of purpose in my life. What could have led to this emotional roller coaster?
It’s yet another long story but I’ll try to explain…
Last Friday our 16 training participants organized and held a penny sale to raise money for the Community Feast and the Thrift Shop. Working together, pulling long hours in a small, hot room they raised over $3,000.
Then on Tuesday they gathered around four fires to cook gigantic pots of caribou stew in preparation of the community feast in honour of greater inclusion of people with disabilities. This event was officially hosted by the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society (NDMS) and we were fortunate to have Alex Rowlson, Emily Breen and Sandy Kownak from NDMS in attendance.
Cooking the caribou for the feast
Our participants served over 300 people in the community hall, in addition to hosting an open mic where local musicians performed followed by a square dance.
Perhaps the best moment was when Joe, Moses and William spoke with confidence in front of 300 people. They told this large audience about all the skills they have built in the Pre-Employment Training Program so far. They spoke about what it means to be participating in a program like this.
I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished together.
Yesterday in our class we celebrated this accomplishment. We also had special guest Elder Paul Atutuvaa come to tell us a bit of his life story. Paul is 81 years old and his health has been declining; he has been medevaced out of Baker Lake to Winnipeg several times. He was adopted because his birth family couldn’t afford to feed another child. But even his adoptive family struggled, just as all Inuit did at that time. There were times when his own family went hungry as his father struggled to catch enough fish and caribou to keep his family fed. After not eating for several days, Paul remembers when they caught a large fish. The Elders only gave each person a small bit of fish to eat because they knew that eating too much after days without food could lead to sickness and even death.
Elder Atutuvaa tells his story to our group
Although Paul’s story included sadness, he also told of good times. He gave our class some excellent advice:
- “Never give up hope. Keep on striving. You are able.”
- “Share the food you catch with others, even if you only have a little. “
- Keep going. Speak out what your thoughts are. Move forward, even when you feel like you can’t do it anymore.”
Inuit in Baker Lake and elsewhere in the territory still struggle with food insecurity. According to the charitable organization Feeding Nunavut, the territory has the highest rate of household food insecurity in the country, with one in three people experiencing food insecurity every month. At the feast, people seemed grateful for the meal. Our participants themselves experience hunger and have told me that there are times when their children go to bed hungry. And to make matters worse, there has been no food bank in town for the last 8 months, so for many of these families, there is nowhere to turn for food.
In response to this situation, our group is mobilized. Last night we participated in a meeting of the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society (NDMS) about the Thrift Shop project. We welcomed several new members to this group, including three participants from our Training project. They elected an executive of the Committee and discussed applying to become a registered disabilities society. They discussed how a food initiative is greatly needed here in Baker Lake, along with a Thrift Shop.
Over the coming weeks and months, this group will work together to contribute to greater food security in Baker Lake. In my mind there is nothing more motivating than feeding hungry people—especially children—in your community.
Until next time. Ma’na.
P.S. To learn more about the causes and impacts of food insecurity in Nunavut, visit the Nunavut Food Security Coalition at http://www.nunavutfoodsecurity.ca/. There is a list of community-based food programs to which you can contribute money or food (although Baker Lake’s Food Bank is no longer operable).
You can also consider a donation to Feeding Nunavut, an independent, non-partisan advocacy and educational organization whose purpose is to improve the well-being of people in Nunavut.
Their goals are to promote civic improvement by raising awareness about food insecurity and the challenging living conditions in Nunavut, and to work, whenever possible, with national, regional and local organizations, to support, assess and evaluate programs addressing issues of hunger, poverty, housing, education and health, particularly mental health.