The contamination of traditional foods with chemical pollutants is a challenge to the food security of Aboriginal Peoples. Mercury levels are generally low in terrestrial animals; however renal mercury levels have been shown to change over time in the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the principal food source for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation of Old Crow in Yukon, Canada. Seventy-five Porcupine Caribou muscle, sixty-three kidney and three liver samples were analyzed for total mercury. Average concentrations were 0.003, 0.360 and 0.120mg/kg wet weight total mercury for muscle, kidney and liver, respectively. Consumption data of caribou muscle, kidney and liver were collected from twenty-six adults in Vuntut Gwitchin households. Women of child-bearing age (n=5) consumed a median of 71.5g/person/day of caribou muscle and 0.0g/person/day kidney but consumed no liver; median consumptions for all other adults (women aged 40+ and all men, n=21) were 75.8, 3.2 and 2.5g/person/day for meat, kidney and liver, respectively. Median dietary exposures to total mercury from caribou tissues were estimated to be 0.138µg/kg body weight for women of child-bearing age and 0.223µg/kg body weight for other adults. Caribou tissues were found to contribute high levels of important nutrients to the diet and pose minimal health risk from mercury exposure.
Objectives. This study sought to evaluate food consumption patterns in the context of food security in two Yukon First Nations communities. Study design. Twenty-nine members of Vuntut Gwitchin households in Old Crow and 33 members of Tlingit households in Teslin participated in individual interviews. Methods. Food frequency questionnaires were used to quantify traditional food consumption throughout the spring 2007 and winter 2008 and to identify potential temporal trends through a comparison with data from the early 1990s. Additional questions, including the Health Canada Household Food Security Survey Module, sought to assess food security concerns in each community. Results. Overall frequency of traditional food consumption did not change in either community from the 2 time-point analyses. There was, however, a difference in frequency of consumption of certain groups of foods, and this highlighted the degree to which environmental variability affects the availability of foods. Conclusion. The importance of traditional foods in the diet of Yukon First Nations has not changed over the past 15 years. However, limited availability of food species, access to harvesting equipment and decrease in available time to go out on the land to harvest are food security challenges facing households today.
Because of a lack of transportation infrastructure, Old Crow has the highest food costs and greatest reliance on traditional food species for sustenance of any community in Canada's Yukon Territory. Environmental, cultural, and economic change are driving increased perception of food insecurity in Old Crow.
To address community concerns regarding food security and supply in Old Crow and develop adaptation strategies to ameliorate their impact on the community.
A community adaptation workshop was held on October 13, 2009, in which representatives of different stakeholders in the community discussed a variety of food security issues facing Old Crow and how they could be dealt with. Workshop data were analyzed using keyword, subject, and narrative analysis techniques to determine community priorities in food security and adaptation.
Community concern is high and favored adaptation options include agriculture, improved food storage, and conservation through increased traditional education. These results were presented to the community for review and revision, after which the Vuntut Gwitchin Government will integrate them into its ongoing adaptation planning measures.
This paper documents an exceptional research partnership developed between the Vuntut Gwitchin Government (VGG) in Old Crow, Yukon, with a group of scientists to examine northern food security and health as part of a larger, multidisciplinary International Polar Year (IPY) research program. We focus on the elements that enabled a successful community-researcher relationship. Study design. The VGG led the development of the research and acted as Principal Investigator on the IPY grant. The multidisciplinary collaboration spanned the physical, biological and health sciences, including issues related to food security.
The food security and health component of this research was carried out using a series of complementary methods, including focus groups, structured interviews, a household questionnaire, an interactive workshop, community meetings, transcript analysis and a caribou flesh exposure assessment.
Results from the food security component are informing local and regional adaptation planning. The legacy of the research collaboration includes a number of results-based outputs for a range of stakeholders, a community-based environmental monitoring program, long-term research relationships and improved community capacity.
The type of collaboration described here provides a useful model for new types of participatory health research with northern communities.