Nunavut Canada community revives eiderdown business

With no caribou on their islands, Inuit on the Belcher Islands have relied on eider ducks for food and clothing for generations. Here, an Inuit woman wearing a traditional eider skin parka collects duck eggs in a still photo from the film "People of a Feather." (Joel Heath/The Canadian Press)
With no caribou on their islands, Inuit on the Belcher Islands have relied on eider ducks for food and clothing for generations. Here, an Inuit woman wearing a traditional eider skin parka collects duck eggs in a still photo from the film “People of a Feather.” (Joel Heath/The Canadian Press)
A small Inuit community in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut is reviving its eiderdown business, something it hopes provides jobs and opportunity for the isolated settlement.

“They’re ready and eager to sell their down, said Brandon Clark, the community development officer in the hamlet of Sanikiluaq. “(The community) is really excited.”

Feature Interview
To find out more about the history of eiderdown and how the community is getting ready for this opportunity, Eye on the Arctic reached Brandon Clark in Sanikiluaq this week:

Long tradition

Sanikiluaq is a community of approximately 850 people located in the Belcher Islands in Canada’s Hudson Bay.

Eiderdown has long been used by community members to make traditional parkas that are then used for hunting and going out on the land.

Eider ducks use their own down to insulate their eggs.

Inuit collect down from the nests, but leave enough so the eggs stay insulated and the population they rely on stays strong.

After that, the down needs to be cleaned to remove sand, dirt and twigs.

For one parka, the process takes  around eight hours.

Trailer for the 2011 documentary film People of  a Feather, that explores the relationship between the Inuit in the Belcher Islands,and the eider duck.

New approach

In the early 2000s, an attempt was made to commercialize this traditional practise, with a focus on selling eiderdown, before it shut down.

This time, the community is confident the factory will remain sustainable, with a focus on selling goods like traditional down-filled parkas and duvets.

While 1kg of eider down sold for around $500. A parka made by a local seamstress will run around $1500 CDN.

“They were more focused on government funding previously,” said Clark. “Now we’re looking more towards sales that we could make to higher-end markets in the South.”

About eight seamstresses will be employed to make the goods. Four people will be hired to clean the down. An income will be paid to the hunters who gather the down out on the land.

The first products are planned for sale by fall 2015.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: New national park planned in Canada’s High Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Arctic parks among most visited in Finland, Yle News

Norway:  Surfing in the Arctic, Barents Observer

Russia:  Economic crisis hit airlines hard in Russia’s western Arctic, Barents Observer

United States: Alaska community gets into reindeer meat market, Alaska Dispatch News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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