Have you ever wanted to try whale sausage, musk ox steak, jerky or beaver bacon? If you’re Inuvialuit, you’re in luck.
Ashley Jacobson, 30, prepares and packages these things at a new traditional food processing plant in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. She loves the job, as she grew up in Tuktoyaktuk harvesting wild meats and learning from her elders to respect the land and animals.
“I’ve heard a lot of good comments,” Jacobson said of the food that was distributed to Inuvialuit homes in the area. “It means a lot, especially to isolated communities where everything is so expensive, like groceries, the price they pay to harvest animals.”
The Wild Game Food Processing Project was organized by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) to address issues of food insecurity, provide employment opportunities and reconnect Inuvialuit to traditional harvests in the Beaufort-Delta region.
Wild meat is provided by hunters and trappers from the six Inuvialuit communities — Inuvik, Aklavik, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Tuktoyaktuk.
Since August, Jacobson and four other people have been working at the two-trailer plant in Inuvik. She says she has been busy training new recruits and preparing meat for distribution.
“We cut up the beaver, grind it and spice it up, then throw it in the smokehouse,” she explained. “Then the next day we sliced them.”
“It tastes better than bacon, they say.”
She said her daily challenge was to wait until the meat was thawed before preparing it. Moose and caribou are his favorite animals to harvest.
“It’s been amazing”
“She’s exactly the kind of Inuvialuk [we] want to create opportunities for,” said Brian Wade, country food processing project manager, referring to Jacobson.
“Hard worker, now fully trained in this, contributing to food security in the region and learning valuable and transferable skills. We take this work so seriously, it’s amazing to see it come to life.
Under this program, harvesters from Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) communities are compensated for any wild meat they supply. This meat is then sent to the Inuvik processing plant before being redistributed throughout the region.
Wade also worked with Jacobson and the other workers to utilize the hides and furs as well, minimizing waste.
“It’s nice to be able to share different meats from our own specific little regions with the whole of SRI,” Wade said.
Wade says the first shipment went out just before Christmas to registered Inuvialuit households in the six settlement communities.
The aim is to distribute meat four times a year, with the next shipments taking place in March or April.
Wade said the program represents a “significant” amount of the IRC’s budget. Twelve Inuvialuit beneficiaries were hired and trained last summer to operate the processing plant, and since August there have been five full-time employees at the plant.
The program took a long time to come. Traditional food processing classes have been offered since 2015 through a partnership with Aurora College, the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Last year, the IRC also took over management of a reindeer herd, with the aim of developing the herd as a sustainable food source.
Good response from anglers
Michelle Gruben, who is on the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee and a member of the IRC Community Board, is excited about the program.
She said she was especially happy that beneficiary families could access and try meats that they would not normally have access to.
She said local Hunters and Trappers Committees have appealed for different types and amounts of harvest meat, mostly through their Facebook pages.
The response from fishermen has been good, she said.
“Living so far north, gas is expensive. Shells are expensive. Using your gear is expensive,” Gruben said.
“They grew up living on the land, getting food from the land, and for them to harvest their own food from the land and share it with the processing plant, I think that’s a bonus for them.”
She said compensation for fishermen is fair. As an example, she says 10 burbot, or loach, fish would mean $200 in compensation.
“Last time I put out a call for monkfish, in five minutes we had 25 names.”
Gruben said a recent call saw the program receive around 300 burbot and two musk oxen. A moose and muskox call in Aklavik was halted due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Gruben said it will return within the next week.