Inuk lawyer resigns from Nutrition North advisory board

Beth Kotierk resigned from the Nutrition North advisory board last week. She has served on the board since 2021. (Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre/Facebook)

A Inuk lawyer has resigned from Nutrition North’s advisory board, citing the federal government’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, and a halt to increased funding for harvesters as reasons she could no longer continue.

Beth Kotierk, who’s from Nunavut and now works in Toronto, submitted her resignation to federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal last Friday. She has served on the board since 2021.

“I wasn’t feeling like my role was that effective,” Kotierk said in an interview with CBC News.

“As much as I felt I could share my opinion about things, it felt like maybe this wasn’t really being heard.”

In her letter to Vandal, Kotierk criticized Canada’s military and political support of Israel over the past 75 years.

“I thought as time went on something would shift. It’s come to a point where I really don’t think that it will change unless we demand that change,” Kotierk said.

Nutrition North is a federal program that subsidizes shipping costs in a bid to make perishable, nutritious food more accessible and more affordable in remote northern communities. The advisory board represents the voice of northern communities and provides information and advice to the federal ministers of Indigenous and Northern Affairs about the program and what can be done to improve it.

Kotierk said she had contemplated quitting for some time, but finally decided after she found out federal funding for the Harvester’s Support Grant wasn’t renewed for the next budget.

The grant provides money directly to hunters in northern communities to offset the costs of harvesting. Kotierk said funding to that program was cut by 80 per cent for the upcoming fiscal year.

“I really felt like I was attending meetings for nothing,” she said.

Kotierk speaks at an event in Iqaluit’s Qajuqturvik Food Centre in October 2021. (Jane George/CBC)

In a written statement to CBC, Vandal’s office thanked Kotierk for her service on the board, “and for her relentless advocacy for Inuit in Nunavut. He wishes her well in all her future projects.”

Kyle Allen, a spokesperson for Vandal’s office, denied cutting the harvester’s grant program by 80 per cent, but said that funding increases to it announced in 2021 would end in 2024.

“Let’s be clear. We are not cutting funding for the Harvesters’ Support Grant by 80 per cent,” Allen wrote in a statement.

“The grant increases access to country foods by providing funding to support traditional hunting, harvesting and food sharing in isolated communities, and helps Northerners be less reliant on store-bought foods.”

Program should focus on families not retailers, Kotierk says

Kotierk, who now works as a lawyer in Toronto, said she received messages of support from other advisory board members following her resignation.

“I know that putting this out could provoke some hate. That is fair. But for the most part people have been supportive,” Kotierk said.

Ultimately, she said she wants to see the federal government focus the program more on individual families rather than northern retailers, similar to the former food mail program.

“I kind of felt like the work that was done wasn’t being reflected in any changes to the program in a really substantive way,” she said.

Kotierk said despite her concerns with the program, she’s hopeful that improvements will be made.

“We have the information we need in terms of the direction that Nutrition North can go,” she said.

Vandal’s office also said a candidate will be chosen to fill Kotierk’s position through a roster of interested applicants and an “open and transparent process.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Greenhouses aim to bring fresh produce to North, putting a dent in food insecurity, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s farming sector in crisis: report, Yle News

Sweden: 2018 drought took toll on Swedish farmers’ mental and fiscal health, research says, Radio Sweden

United States: New farm bill program aims to fight food insecurity in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

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