The Commoditization of Country Foods in Nunavik: A Comparative Assessment of its Development, Applications, and Significance


  • Nicole Gombay



country foods, Inuit, Nunavik, Canada, economic development, commodity, Hunter Support Program, Makivik, commercialization, economy, sharing


The article presents the historical roots of development policy vis-à-vis Canadian Inuit as it relates to the commoditization of country foods in the Canadian North, with particular reference to Nunavik. Although Inuit place an emphasis on sharing country foods, they have developed various mechanisms that allow them to be sold. Such sales are complicated for a number of reasons. Legislation at various levels of government either prohibits or severely restricts the commercial sale of country foods, particularly for an export market. Despite this, individual businesspeople, Makivik Corporation (the regional Inuit development agency), and the government-sponsored Hunter Support Program (HSP) have all, with varying degrees of success, started to commoditize country foods. The requirement to meet conservation measures and respect government processing standards has restricted the commercial development of these foods for export, which, in turn, has limited such development both by individuals and by Makivik Corporation. The HSP, which pays people to supply country foods that are then given away to beneficiaries under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, is the most accepted and successful form of commoditization. The reason for its success is twofold. First, regulations generally favour the development of a local market for country foods. Second, at an ethical level the HSP is tolerable to people because it both curbs the practice of selling country foods purely for individual self-interest and underscores sociality by replicating the Inuit tradition of sharing food with the community. Although Inuit are consumers of the commoditized country foods to some extent, the Inuit who produce those foods for sale insist that they do not sell them to other Inuit, but rather continue to share. They have made a teleological distinction between the sale of country foods to Inuit, which tradition inhibits, and the sale of country foods to institutions, which is acceptable. The latter removes country foods from the domestic sphere, thereby enabling Inuit to sell the foods without challenging the principle that they be shared.