as some readers know, I have moved again and this time North, residing on an island of snow & ice, accessible only by plane or ship, where days are short and blizzards are common, sometimes going -50 below during wintertime.
in other words, not a place you’d expect to find a vegan.
the thought of a vegan living in the Arctic tundra sounds like a bad joke – the kind some family member makes at an awkward family gathering, where instead of a pig on a desert island, this time around it is you and an arctic hare on an iceberg or something.
(my usual response to those loaded “jokes” are to ask how the herbivore has been living there before my arrival, and why can I not also rely on their food supply too?)
so why am I here?
well, that is not really the purpose of this post, although suffice to say I enjoy travelling, seeing new parts of the world and learning new places to call home. I am a white settler, and to move anywhere is a privilege few in the world can do freely, so I try to savour what should be a universal right for all inhabitants of this planet, and otherwise try to support immigrant & refugee rights wherever I am residing.
besides which, I think it is an extremely healthy and grounding experience to venture into the unfamiliar, to recognize what privileges you have forgotten you carry, to learn a new way of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, and just all around trying to keep a fresh perspective on living life. of course, some people have always known these feelings of unease, and struggle to find a place they feel welcomed & safe, so know I am only speaking for myself (as always).
alright, getting straight to it:
HOW am I staying vegan in the Arctic?
am I even still vegan up here??
is it awful or what???
I have been living in “the place of many fish” (so-called Iqaluit, Nunavut), since late 2017 – and I don’t plan to be leaving anytime soon…
but to give a proper explanation on if or how I am still vegan, I want to give context.
me giving you context requires clarifying misconceptions and otherwise self-educating out of ignorance. so here we go. and no, this is not a tourism advertisement or me trying to convince you to vacation here.
I am explaining why the land I occupy and the people & animals I inhabit it with are relevant to any serious conversation about “ethics”, or whatever you want to call conversations about competing definitions of a righteous way(s) to exist.
(1) the territory of Nunavut is enormous.
it spans nearly the whole way across the northern end of the americas.
not only is the size of the land itself beyond what most people imagine about the Arctic, but then there is also a serious failure to appreciate the genuine diversity of indigenous peoples living here, and who have been now for millennia.
really, it is another example of the archaic notion of borders and nation-states claiming to represent such large-scale land masses & the complex cultures residing upon it.
(2) the place is fucking pristine gorgeous.
the very nature of the Arctic is so inhospitable to us human species – and this is why it stays unravaged by capitalist-corporate endeavours, relative to elsewhere in the world. no doubt this will change with the changing climate of the world and likely water-wars, but this post is already long enough without me dabbling in what tomorrow will hold.
(3) this spot in the world is so very north that it has its own rules.
this blog gets regular visits from people all around the world, but I am still assuming the large majority of readers are urban-dwelling people (but correct me in the comments).
- like, there are 6 seasons – early Fall, Fall, Winter, early Spring, Spring and Summer. the reason for more specific names to match the changing weather makes sense in such a harsh climate where being underprepared leads very quick to hunger.
and with the long winters and short summers, Inuit communities typically measure the seasons by which animals are around and the solar & lunar changes too.
- with these changing environmental conditions, there also comes extra long periods of both little sunlight and also extra sunlight. during the winter months, the sun has set and nighttime has settled by 3:00 PM.
- the capital city will shut down on occasion because of blizzards. the cold temperatures arrive around october and leave around april – which means dressing in snow pants, gloves, toques, scarves and more is super essential to surviving daily outings without exposure to frostbite or worse…
(4) the residents who choose to live up here are many and diverse.
I won’t dive into too much detail over this matter, instead just refer you to a “Planet Earth” episode of the Arctic on netflix (bom bom), besides highlighting there are:
- over 200 species of flowering plants that grow in the Arctic tundra
- lots of wild berries (alpines bearberries, blueberries, cranberries, crowberries) that Inuit folk have long relied upon – eaten raw or else made into jams & jellies.
- non-humans here who include sea-dwellers (seals, beluga whales, walrus and fish), as well as over 100 species of birds (buntings, cranes, terns, seagulls, snowy owls, ravens, the rock ptarmigan), and land animals (Arctic hares, Arctic foxes, White Wolves, caribou, lemmings & polar bears oh my).
Iqaluit is roughly 60% Inuit peoples, with the rest made up from a never-ending influx of contract & seasonal workers.
historically, however, Inuit peoples have existed here a long fucking time and continue to exist across the Arctic tundras with a wide spectrum of cultural practices, languages and identities. the diversity contained in the name Inuit really surpass the racist pejorative name of “eskimo” and reflect back the true ignorance of white settlers, then & now, who have been unable to comprehend a reality that complicates the familiar narrative you probably learned in history class.
but before I go further, let me stop and make something apparent.
for anyone quick to be like “ya i know all this already gawd,” think about whether you are leaning into this creepy habit of guilty well-intentioned white allies (vegan or not) to romanticize native peoples as innately noble objects to imitate (read: appropriate) as though they are the saviour for all the fuck-ups of western society.
no doubt, indigenous peoples all around the globe have lived by a more in-tune lifestyle with the natural world and it has been western forces of religion, industry and economics that have brought such devastation to peoples, animals and ecosystems.
with that said, however, beware yourself thinking or others who exotify Inuit or any other group because it’s a convenient point of view among white settlers to restrict the identities of indigenous peoples into a static & historic image.
when that happens, then you have the media and government and education systems treating natives as more of an idea that they control rather than, you know, living breathing people – many of whom have survived (physical & cultural) genocide & displacement through generations of colonization.
how NOT to be vegan in the Arctic
okay so what was the point of all that information for, huh?
well, it was a very quick primer to contextualize what it means for a white person (read: a descendant of, and currently benefitting from, the legacies of colonialism) to be living in the Arctic (read: a wild, beautiful land that was helped kept so through generations of indigenous caretaking) – vegan or not.
but as a vegan – someone trying to live with more intentional habits towards what they consume in food, products & entertainment, specifically with consideration for animals – I am well aware of the abysmal failures that animal rights organizations have done despite the best of intentions.
yet good intentions don’t really mean shit, do they?
the missionaries of church & state who organized and operated residential schools no doubt assumed they were doing god’s work, trying to “save” people from savagery. obviously, that didn’t stop the crimes against humanity that occurred.
no doubt, you have heard of campaigns to end the seal hunts in the Arctic.
it is notorious because rarely do you have such adorable creatures killed out in the open (usually, this gets hidden behind barn doors and slaughterhouse walls and lab security).
it’s not uncommon in town to see someone on their front step cutting up a dead seal.
but considering the context of this situation – a white visitor and an Inuit local – it is extremely oppressive for me to preach or shame at somebody.
no, that doesn’t mean I don’t pity the dead or that I will go hunt too.
rather, it does mean that I can appreciate the wider game at play which has brought harm to all of us, although in clearly different ways and different degrees. because remaining oblivious to contemporary harms caused by environmental and animal welfare groups – Greenpeace, PeTA, IFAW – is a privilege of mine, but not only would that make me seriously naive and lazy, it also does little to help animals either.
so let’s unpack that privilege, shall we?
- I could ignore how past anti-seal-hunt campaigns chose not to engage with Inuit peoples as soveriegn communities, you know, to try and understand the reality of colonial devastation & intergenerational traumas…
- I could ignore how these animal rights “victories” came via the nonprofit industrial complex (prioritizing NGO political clout over people) by appealing to the EU to ban “seal products”, thereby reinforcing those same old powers of colonial-capitalist white supremacy…
- and I could also ignore how a significant majority of animal rights campaign strategies pander to binaries of us vs. them, progress vs. savagery rhetoric…
or, perhaps I could try to adopt a more radical perspective for this dilemma, which is certainly more disruptive to the invisible forces of oppression at play.
and what might this look like?
- recognizing how animal and eco liberation manifest in many ways, which is important not only because it helps escape repression but because not all ecosystems and not all animals are facing the same problems, then there need to be different solutions for the diversity of communities at work to uproot oppression.
- recognizing the totally appropriate response of indigenous peoples to refuse western “white saviour” help, to boycott settler solutions to settler-made problems, to reaffirm cultural traditions in the face of cultural appropriation & cultural stigmatization, and all around to just keep being resilient af.
- recognizing the many ongoing policies of colonial governments & transnational corporations struggling hard to subvert indigenous power, which is hands-down the best practical means to topple capitalist endeavours (eg pipelines; eg canadian mining; eg fish farming; eg “industrial animal agriculture”) that exploit and destroy everything precious and free.
- recognizing the need to shift priorities in animal defense towards alignment with anti-colonial work, not only for achieving deeper success but also because of the disproportionate targeting of animal rights campaigns against cultures of Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
- recognizing the need to financially bolster efforts of food sovereignty and disruption of resource-extraction industries, which are important also to help undo the violence of environmental racism and geographic displacement onto reserves.
how to be an Arctic herbivore
tldr: yasss, I am still a herbivore, but hopefully you appreciate that white vegans on Native Land have tremendous responsibility to help undo legacies of colonial violence, or else to know enough to get the fuck out of the way of indigenous peoples who are trying to save the world.
okay, the end.
but for those looking for some practical vegan hacks…
- no need for fur or canadagoose jackets.
instead, learn to layer your clothing.
as in, wearing multiple shirts and pants.
long-underwear and thick socks.
have a toque, scarf, parka, snow pants, liner gloves, mittens, and snow boots.
sunglasses too, especially in winter with the clear blue skies & bright white snow.
all this can be thrifted too, so no need either to feed the toxic fashion industry…
- food is expensive up here, though meats are often the priciest. so yes you can shop at the local foodmarkets and get fruits & veggies & vegan-faux products, because just about everything is flown in by plane/boat shipments given how the climate sort of negates any backyard gardens.
otherwise, order direct deliveries from ottawa or montreal, and have dry beans, grains, soy milk and other processed foods by amazon with free shipping.
- there are only few animals you will regularly see up here, in town – mostly giant ravens.
and the ones you do may very well be the ones who kill you (ahem polar bears).
so make friends with the strays and rescues at the local humane society, where huskies are very common and you can see them enjoy life in their element.
win, win, win.
- Angry Inuk (2016)
- Animal rights, Human rights: Ecology, economy and ideology in the Canadian Arctic
- INUKTITUT OUR LANGUAGE
- Inuktitut (Eastern Canadian Inuit Language)
- Inuktitut Language (ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ)
- INUKTITUT AND INUINNAQTUN RESOURCES
- Learn Inuktitut (Video)
- My language, my heart: Saving Inuinnaqtun
- what is inuktitut?
- 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance
- By Gord Hill
- Censored News
- Colonization and Decolonization: A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century
- By Zig-Zag
- Cultural Survival
- Partnering with Indigenous Peoples to Defend their Lands, Languages, and Cultures
- By Zigzag & Keyway, Long Hot Summer ‘99
- Decolonization is not a metaphor
- By Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang
- Decolonizing Animal Liberation
- This blog was created and currently managed by Darren Chang, animal liberation activist living on Unceded Coast Salish Territories, Turtle Island (so-called Vancouver, BC, Canada), traditional, ancestral, and occupied land of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) people.
- Decolonial Food for Thought
- An antispeciesist standpoint grounded in the teachings shared with us by our communities and elders which include our relatives, the slithering two and four legged animals (humans included) the land, water, plants & seeds…
- Decolonize your Diet
- Defenders of the Land
- A network of Indigenous communities and activists in land struggle across Canada, including Elders and youth, women and men, was founded at a historic meeting in Winnipeg from November 12-14, 2008. Defenders is the only organization of its kind in the territory known as Canada – Indigenous-led, free of government or corporate funding, and dedicated to building a fundamental movement for Indigenous rights. We will be holding a second gathering this year, where we will decide on collective action and a strategy to build the movement through education and organizing.
- “History in our Faces on Occupied Land: A Race Relations Timeline”
- By Vancouver Status of Women – Feminist Working Group
- Indigenous Action Media (IAM)
- Providing strategic media support and direct action to address issues impacting Indigenous communities. IAM offers media strategy consultation and support in the face of environmental & social injustices. We do this through direct support, workshops, web and graphic design services, documentaries and youth empowerment projects.
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- Established in 1990 within the United States, IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues (EJ).
- Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Missing Justice)
- A grassroots solidarity collective based in Montreal that works to eliminate violence and discrimination against Indigenous women living in Quebec. The collective seeks to consult and collaborate with Indigenous communities and organizations to foster understanding and dispel harmful stereotypes commonly held in regards to Indigenous women who are targets of violence.
- Native Land – Our Home on Native Land Resources
- The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN)
- An organization by & for Indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice throughout the US and Canada.
- “Racialization of Poverty: Indigenous Women, the Indian Act and Systemic Oppression – REASONS FOR RESISTANCE”
- By Angela Sterritt
- Reclaim Turtle Island
- Defend our Lands. Shut Down the tar sands.
- Reclaim Your Power
- Setting the Record Straight
- There is No “We”: V-Day, Indigenous Women & Myth of Shared Gender Oppression
- By Lauren Chief Elk
- TRIBAL EQUITY TOOLKIT 2.0: TRIBAL RESOLUTIONS AND CODES TO SUPPORT TWO SPIRIT & LGBT JUSTICE IN INDIAN COUNTRY
- Two Row Times
- A free weekly news publication aimed at reaching the Ontario-wide Native market as well as Haudenosaunee communities in the United States.
- Unsettling Minnesota
- A collective of non-Dakota people working in solidarity towards decolonization in Dakota homelands.
- Unsettling Ourselves: Reflections & Resources for Deconstructing Colonial Mentality
- A sourcebook compiled by Unsettling Minnesota
- Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice
- An emerging decentralized network of autonomous groups and individuals dedicated to mental and territorial decolonization throughout Turtle Island and the “Americas.” We are not here to document Statist, top-down legislative/governmental “decolonization” from above, but rather the mental, spiritual, and psychological decolonization and liberation that can only come from below and within, and does not seek sanction or legitimization from abstract (and fundamentally illegitimate) external power structures in seeking true sovereignty and self-determination for ourselves and for all people.
- Unist’ot’en Camp
- A resistance community whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory from several proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region.
- Warrior Publications
- Published in occupied Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, Canada). Its purpose is to promote warrior culture, fighting spirit, and resistance movements.
seriously? this article needs to be renamed; its highly misleading. And no one has a right to butcher animals, so ethnicity is no excuse. You arent vegan if you excuse people for butchering animals. Period.
hi thanks for reading!
sorry we’re not sure where you got the idea that we were saying ‘ethnicity is an excuse’, or that we were excusing violence…
we were highlighting that white people have an obligation to respect and support indeigenous resistance to colonialism, and that this can look like many things – but one of which is not the shaming pseudo-missionary tactics that ignore the layers of oppression at work.
hope that helps clarify.
thanks for commenting!
The article is still misleading and up until the last paragraph, mostly irrelevant to the title . . . .
And To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t about bird hunting, so reader-beware I guess!
Thank you. I’m potentially, if I get the job I’m applying for, moving to nunavik and I was worried that it would be completely impossible. It’s nice to see someone with the same perspective about veganism and colonialism showing how it is done!
You’re so welcome & thanks for commenting!
Hello! I was wondering what your stance is on commercial sea hunting as many of these hunters depended on this occupation as their main source of income. As Tanya Tagak said: “seals are our cows, they are our beef and leather”.
Because of these animal rights campaigns, the demand for this meat has declined, making it hard for them to live in this now colonial setting and continue their traditions that was so in tune with nature. I am vegan, but I have a hard time with this one. What is your stance?
Been in Iqaluit just since 2016, also vegan. I’ve met a few other vegans, we seem to be a very closeted group up here.
Thank you for posting this informative article. It contained not only the information promised, but plenty of context to frame it. I’ve flirted with the idea of living in the arctic for a few years and, while it still doesn’t seem very near on the horizon, it’s very useful to know that it would be possible to maintain my family’s vegan ideals should the day come.
I found your article, when looking for real and useful information as to how far north one could live and be self sufficient and vegetarian (not necessarilly vegan). I do not see buying whatever food you want from the local store as particularly good for the planet, when it is flown from all over the world! Much having been grown on land that the locals would better use for feeding themselves. And what was the comment about maintaining rights for (yourself?!) as an immigrant? surely the rights of the indigenous people there are more important. I do hope you are not as self opinionated and misguided as your article suggests.
Hey, I loved the article, thanks for sharing your experience. I have have been studying a bit about decolonization and understand what you mean about not forcing on the “missionary good intention” We whites cannot force the indigenous to follow our lead on fixing problems that we created in the first place. One day maybe all people will be vegan, but the natives must come at their own will if they decide to, not because we shamed them into it.
Are you still up there? So much of the world is changing for the worse. Wondering if people are having to move or run from the melt? Do they see the changes and have the ability to change the same as anybody who has gone plant based for whatever reason has done?
Good luck in your travels.
Nice article and a refreshing perspective from a vegan. I’d like to add one or two points though, mainly relating to economics.
1. You mentioned the effects of the anti-sealing campaigns in terms of a white saviour narrative, but they also had the far more immediate effect of collapsing the market for seal products, which many people relied on as a source of income. The continued perception of fur (especially seal), as taboo means that this oppression is ongoing and I would challenge you, if you consider yourself an ally, to contribute to the local economy by purchasing animal products, or at least promoting them to your non-vegan friends.
2. You mention that groceries are expensive, but leave it at that. While I know that you yourself are not trying to convert locals to veganism, a common refrain is that vegan choices are available, so people shouldn’t go hunting these days. By saying that vegetables are cheaper than meat you’re playing into that narrative by implying that people could do it if they wished, rather than recognising that most people don’t have $50 to spend on vegetables to begin with. Meat is so expensive in part because only the privileged can afford to buy it. Hunting is still very much a means of survival in Nunavut, not a lifestyle.