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The Nutrition North Canada Program in Canada - The Revised Food Mail Program (2010)



Indigenous societal infrastructures were dismantled and their modern counterparts were not built in Canada as a result of a policy of forced assimilation administered by Canada’s former Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)*. In the arctic, the evolution of modern Inuit Country Food infrastructure was destroyed by forced community relocations and the killing of thousands of sled dogs used in transportation and food gathering.


The Government of Canada, through INAC, provided a mail postage subsidy program through Canada Post called the Food Mail Program. The goal of the program was to reduce the cost of shipping nutritious, perishable food to isolated northern communities. However, these subsidies were only available for the shipping of “southern” non-Aboriginal commercially available food. The Inuit have cried out for the development of an Inuit country food infrastructure for a number of years. In 2009, under the Access to Information Act, CAID obtained a 2002 study commissioned by INAC that recommended the immediate creation of a northern Indigenous country food infrastructure in Canada to prevent northern Indigenous food shortages and create a base for the northern economy. INAC did not act on the study’s recommendations and did not release the study’s findings to Indigenous People. The Government of Canada still refuses to facilitate the creation of an Indigenous country food infrastructure. In 2010, a health study was published showing the availability of nutritious food in the North has reached crisis levels leaving up to 70% of preschool Inuit children in Nunavut without enough food to eat. The withholding of knowledge and funding by INAC and the current Conservative Government of Canada are the only discernable reasons for the current food crisis in Nunavut.


In 2006, INAC initiated a review of the Food Mail Program since it had become expensive and woefully inadequate. The final report of that review was never released. Under pressure, INAC released interim reports including one by the Minister of INAC’s special representative who recommended the creation of a pilot Indigenous country food program.


In May of 2010, INAC announced the replacement of the Food Mail Program by the Nutrition North Canada Program. The new program:



The result of INAC’s changes to the Food Mail Program:



The Nutrition North Canada Program failed to reverse the crisis level of starvation currently seen in northern Canada. The new program still forced Indigenous people to purchase expensive “southern food” and commercial products while withholding the development of local, more nutritious, country food alternatives founded on Indigenous culture and local resources.  


In March 2011, INAC began to promote its Nutrition North program by expanding the eligible food list as southern food prices in the north began to skyrocket. INAC also began to promote its inclusion of commercial country food in shipping subsidies. However, the program’s agenda and failings have not changed. It seems the Inuit will either need to leave the north to feed their families or have high paying jobs to remain; non-Indigenous vocations such as mining. This is what the process of forced assimilation, by a policy referred to as selective funding, looks like.


In 2014, the Auditor General of Canada indicated INAC had failed to deliver its goal of affordable nutritious food to isolated communities. This set in motion a program review and engagement process whose results were released in 2017. It remains to be seen if INAC can revamp the Nutrition North program into a success.


* INAC has been renamed a number of times in the last several years but the INAC acronym is used here. (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; and, in 2017 the department was split into two: Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada)



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Last Updated August 30, 2018