Indigenous people in Canada don’t face food security issues because “they hunt every day,” said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in the House of Commons Wednesday as she fended off opposition attacks fueled by the findings of the UN special rapporteur on food issues.
Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a press conference earlier in the day that he was “struck” by the “desperate situation” Indigenous people faced in the country.
De Schutter was in Canada for nearly two weeks to investigate food issues in the country. While he visited some First Nations communities, he did not make it up to Canada’s more remote communities where the cost of healthy foods remains a constant concern.
Aglukkaq, however, dismissed the rapporteur’s findings, saying he was nothing more than an “ill-informed academic.” Aglukkaq said she tried to “educate” De Schutter during a face-to-face meeting about the real situation of Indigenous people in Canada.
“I took the opportunity to educate him about Canada’s North and Aboriginal people that depend on the wildlife that they hunt every day for food security,” said Aglukkaq, in the House of Commons, responding to a question from the NDP.
The traditional food supply in Nunavut, however, is under extreme pressure. Suppliers at Iqaluit’s monthly country-food outdoor market say they can’t keep up with demand. Snowmobiles full of caribou are picked clean before vendors can get them off the sleds.
Food prices are also expected to rise in October when the Conservative’s Nutrition North programfor remote northern communities comes into force, ending subsidies for many products.
Aglukkaq fielded NDP questions on the issue which were directed at Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan who did not meet with De Schutter.
“The UN food rapporteur says he’s seen very desperate conditions and people who are in extremely dire straits, yet the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs refused to meet with him when he came to Ottawa. How can the minister continue to deny there is a problem?” said NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder.
Manicouagan NDP MP Jonathan Genest-Jourdain also took aim at Duncan, drawing in the issue of the need for clean drinking water on many First Nations reserves.
“Will the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs keep sticking his head in the sand or take the work of the rapporteur seriously and take action on his recommendations?” said Genest-Jourdain, who is Innu.
Aglukkaq said most of the world’s hungry live outside of Canada.
“Sixty-five per cent of the world’s hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan,” said Aglukkaq. “(And) 239 million people in sub-Sahara Africa are going hungry….”
Liberal Aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett also took up the issue saying the UN rapporteur’s findings added to the list of Aglukkaq’s government failures to deal with problems plaguing Indigenous communities in the country.
“We know that the minister of health has no strategy on Aboriginal suicide, OxyContin abuse, add today food insecurity,” said Bennett.
Aglukkaq stuck to her lines, however, repeating that De Schutter was an “ill-informed and patronizing” academic.
“It is an academic study of Aboriginal people in Canada’s Arctic, without ever setting foot on the ground and walking in our kamiks for a day to get a good understanding of the limitations andopportunities we have as Aboriginal people in this country,” said Aglukkaq.
Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization that speaks for Canada’s Inuit, said the rapporteur’s findings were welcome and needed.
“Whether the government accepts this report or not to me isn’t important,” said Simon, who met with De Schutter. “The fact we are able to talk to someone that will provide an assessment of the situation in Canada is extremely important for us, especially us Inuit living in the Arctic.”