This paper uses a mixed methods approach to characterise the experience of food insecurity among Inuit community members in Igloolik, Nunavut, and examine the conditions and processes that constrain access, availability, and quality of food. We conducted semi-structured interviews (n= 66) and focus groups (n= 10) with community members, and key informant interviews with local and territorial health professionals and policymakers (n= 19). The study indicates widespread experience of food insecurity. Even individuals and households who were food secure at the time of the research had experienced food insecurity in the recent past, with food insecurity largely transitory in nature. Multiple determinants of food insecurity operating over different spatial-temporal scales are identified, including food affordability and budgeting, food knowledge and preferences, food quality and availability, environmental stress, declining hunting activity, and the cost of harvesting. These determinants are operating in the context of changing livelihoods and climate change, which in many cases are exacerbating food insecurity, although high-order manifestations of food insecurity (that is, starvation) are no longer experienced.
A collaborative study of the Smithsonian Institution's ethnology collections has inspired the narration of Alaska Native oral traditions, including Yupik Elder Estelle Oozevaseuk's re-telling (in 2001) of the story of Kukulek village and the St. Lawrence Island famine and epidemic of 1878–80. The loss of at least 1,000 lives and all but two of the island's villages was a devastating event that is well documented in historical sources and archaeology, as well as multiple Yupik accounts. Yupiget have transmitted memories of extreme weather, bad hunting conditions, and a wave of fatal contagion that swept the island. The Kukulek narrative, with origins traceable to the late nineteenth century, provides a spiritual perspective on the disaster's underlying cause, found in the Kukulek people's disrespect toward the animal beings that sustained them. This paper explores the cultural and historical contexts of this narrative, and contrasts it with Western perspectives.