, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 590–607 | Cite as

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and Inuit Nutrition Security in Canada

  • Tiff-Annie Kenny
  • Myriam Fillion
  • Sarah Simpkin
  • Sonia D. Wesche
  • Hing Man ChanEmail author
Original Contribution


Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) has been fundamental to the diet and culture of Arctic Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. Although caribou populations observe natural cycles of abundance and scarcity, several caribou herds across the Circumpolar North have experienced dramatic declines in recent decades due to a range of interrelated factors. Broadly, the objectives of this study are to examine food and nutrition security in relation to wildlife population and management status across Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland, consisting of four regions across the Canadian Arctic). Specifically, we: (1) characterize the contribution of caribou to Inuit nutrition across northern Canada and (2) evaluate the population and management status of caribou herds/populations harvested by Inuit. Dietary data were derived from the 2007–2008 Inuit Health Survey, which included dietary information for Inuit adults (n = 2097) residing in thirty-six communities, spanning three regions (the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, and Nunatsiavut) of the Canadian North. Published information regarding the range, abundance, status, and management status of caribou herds/populations was collected through document analysis and was validated through consultation with northern wildlife experts (territorial governments, co-management, and/or Inuit organizations). While caribou contributed modestly to total diet energy (3–11% of intake) across the regions, it was the primary source of iron (14–37%), zinc (18–41%), copper (12–39%), riboflavin (15–39%), and vitamin B12 (27–52%), as well as a top source of protein (13–35%). Restrictions on Inuit subsistence harvest (harvest quotas or bans) are currently enacted on at least six northern caribou herds/populations with potential consequences for country food access for over twenty-five Inuit communities across Canada. A holistic multi-sectorial approach is needed to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations, while supporting Inuit food and nutrition security in the interim.


Inuit Arctic Indigenous Food security Traditional food Country food Caribou Rangifer tarandus Wildlife harvest 



We are thankful to the many individuals from northern wildlife, co-management, and Inuit organizations who provided expert feedback and thoughtful insights on the manuscript. Feedback from the two anonymous reviewers is also acknowledged and contributed to substantively improving the manuscript. We are grateful to Don Russell and Anne Gunn for generously providing caribou herd range data. The authors also wish to recognize and extend their appreciation to all participating community members, community and health organizations, nurses, technicians, Drs. Grace Egeland and Kue Young, and the Steering Committees, of the Canadian IPY IHS. We gratefully acknowledge the National Inuit Health Survey Working Group for reviewing this manuscript. The Inuit Health Survey was realized with funding from The Government of Canada Federal Program for International Polar Year, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Health Canada, the Northern Contaminant Program of the Government of Canada, ArcticNet, Canada Research Chair Program, and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.


This study was funded by ArcticNet and the Canada Research Chair Program.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The IHS data are not publically available due to research participants’ privacy/consent and data ownership agreements with the participating communities. Requests for access to raw data will be reviewed by the National Inuit Health Survey Working Group which represents the interests of the participating communities.

Supplementary material

10393_2018_1348_MOESM1_ESM.docx (65 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 65 kb)


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Alliance 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Faculté de MédecineUniversité LavalQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Geographic, Statistical and Government Information CentreUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Department of Geography, Environment and GeomaticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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