The tiny town of Taloyoak is an Arctic inspiration

UPDATE: FOOD SOVEREIGNTY PROJECT IN TALOYOAK, NU NABS $500,000 PRIZE 

For the Inuktitut version, please click here.

Perched on the edge of Aviqtuuq, also known as the Boothia Peninsula, the Nunavut hamlet of Taloyoak is the northernmost community on Canada’s mainland. It’s home to about 1,100 residents and, now, a $500,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize nomination.

If all goes well, it will also one day be home to the Aviqtuuq Inuit Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) which is proposed to cover 40,730 square kilometres of ocean, 4,413 square kilometres of freshwater, 20,532 kilometres of rivers and 45,039 square kilometres of land. To put this in perspective, the terrestrial area alone is bigger than Switzerland.

The Nunavut hamlet of Taloyoak at sunrise
© George Aklah

One of only two finalists from Nunavut, the nomination is for their plan to develop an IPCA that improves the community’s economic well-being and food sovereignty while also safeguarding caribou calving grounds, polar bear denning areas, and summering habitat for ice whales like narwhal, beluga and bowhead.

The goal is to prevent future industrial development, like mining, that can harm local habitats while also providing economic alternatives to resource extraction that actively increase local food security, including small-scale fisheries, outfitting camps, tourism and community guardian patrols.

WWF-Canada has been working closely with the community for three years as part of our commitment to Indigenous-led conservation and a future where people and wildlife both thrive. IPCAs are, quite simply, the most equitable, efficient and effective means of safeguarding species in the face of our escalating biodiversity loss crisis. (Research has shown that Indigenous-managed lands are more species rich than other areas in Canada and support more at-risk wildlife.)

In late 2019, Taloyoak’s Spence Bay HTA (the community was formerly called Spence Bay) was awarded over $500,000 from the Canada Nature Fund through an application that WWF-Canada co-developed with them in support of their vision for Aviqtuuq. Then, last year, we again lent a hand for their Arctic Inspiration Prize submission.

The purpose of the annual award is to “recognize excellence and encourage teamwork among diverse groups in order to use or expand Arctic knowledge and bring it into action for the decisive benefit of the Canadian Arctic, its inhabitants and therefore for Canada as a whole.”

Spence Bay HTA and WWF-Canada meeting in Taloyoak to plan future work on Aviqtuuq IPCA
© Brandon Laforest/WWF Canada

Named Niqihaqut, which means “our food” in Inuktitut, the nominated project seeks to develop a conservation economy approach to address issues of unemployment and food insecurity in Taloyoak. Their vision is for an integration of marine, coastal, freshwater and terrestrial systems — reflecting the Inuit view of one interconnected ecosystem — that not only protects this region for future generations but allows them to remain in control and create economic opportunities.

Proposed boundaries for Aviqtuuq IPCA, including marine and terrestrial areas
© Will Merritt/WWF-Canada

This new model of social economy anchored in the protection of Aviqtuuq IPCA was named one of 10 finalists for the Arctic Inspiration Prize. Winners will be announced on February 19, 2021. Due to COVID-19, this year’s Arctic Inspiration Prize will be a virtual event that will air on the APTN network at 7:30pm CST and be subsequently streamed on APTN.ca.

Community leader and Spence Bay HTA manager Jimmy Oleekatalik is the lead on this project, with Paul Okalik, our lead Arctic specialist, Brandon Laforest, our senior Arctic species specialist, Tad Talurialik (youth representative), Kublu Tucktoo (retired teacher), Joe Ashevak (Spence Bay HTA chair), Lindsay Anaija (Hamlet of Taloyoak) and Vincent L’Hérault (ArctiConnexion) listed as team members.

WWF-Canada offered its technical services, helped organize meetings and provided guidance and advice when requested. WWF-Canada also funded an independent consultant to work directly for the community to advocate on their behalf and maintain their control in all aspects of the work.

We’re celebrating our partners´ nomination and wish the community the best of luck! Either way, we remain fully committed to helping them realize their IPCA vision.