18.3 Country food use in NWT ecozones

Last Updated: 
September 11, 2015

This indicator tracks the percentage of NWT people who reported that more than 75% of meat (mammals and birds) and fish they consumed was harvested in the NWT. It also provides data on the percentage of NWT people involved in gathering plants and berries.

This information is summarized from NWT Bureau of Statistics – Quarterly reports1, the 2002 NWT Regional Employment and Harvesting Survey2, and the 2004, 2009, and 2013 NWT Community Surveys3.

NWT Focus

The most direct link between people and their environment is through food. The NWT is rich in mammal, bird and fish populations. These species have sustained Aboriginal peoples in the NWT for thousands of years.

Loss of access and reduction in abundance in country food are two of the most direct ways people would note a change in the state of their environment. People who have knowledge and harvest NWT resources actively monitor wildlife populations and their health to ensure sustainable use. People who rarely rely on animals and plants available in their immediate environment for food may be less inclined to note changes in that environment. Changes in the use of country food could have impacts on both the state of the environment and stewardship actions.

NWT's most common country foods

Mammals and Birds

Caribou, Moose, Ducks, Geese, Seals, Hare, Grouse, Ptarmigan

Lake Trout, Char, Inconnu (Coney), Whitefish, Pike, Burbot

Blueberries, Cranberries, Blackberries, Cloudberries

Current view: status and trend

About 40-50% of NWT residents living in small communities in every ecozone rely on country food for most (at least 75%) of their meat and fish. This percentage has been in decline since 1999, now approaching numbers reported in 1994.

Percent of households who reported that most or all of their meat-fish was harvested from the NWT

Percent of households who reported that most of their meat-fish was harvested from the NWT by eco-regions

Percent of households who reported that more than 75% of meat-fish was harvested from the NWT. Source: NWT Bureau of Stats. 1994 and 1999 - NWT Labour Force Surveys; 2004, 2009, and 2013 NWT Community Surveys. Large: Yellowknife, Inuvik; Medium: Aklavik, Behchoko, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Norman Wells, Tuktoyaktuk; Small: all other communitites.
Northern Arctic: Ulukhaktok (Holman), Sachs Harbour; Southern Arctic: Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk; Taiga Cordillera: Wrigley; Taiga Plains: Aklavik, Colville Lake, Déline, Fort Good Hope, Fort Liard, Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Jean Marie River, Kakisa, Nahanni Butte, Norman Wells, Trout Lake, Tsiigehtchic, Tulita, Whatì; Taiga Shield: N'Dilo, Behchokò (Rae-Edzo), Detah, Gamètì (Rae Lakes), Lutselk'e, Wekweètì, Yellowknife.

The percentage of NWT residents who mostly consume country food (meat and fish) and are living in medium and large communities is lower than for people living in small communities.

A greater percentage of NWT people eat country foods in Taiga Shield and Southern Arctic. The lowest percentage, (4%) of people who eat mostly country food (meat and fish), live in Yellowknife, the only large-sized community in the NWT (Taiga Shield ecozone).

Fifteen to 27% of people from small and medium sized communities gathered berries in 2002. About 10% of these people also gathered plants. The percentage of people from Yellowknife involved in these activities was slightly lower. Thirteen percent  of people in Yellowknife reporting gathering berries in the surveyed year.

NWT population 15 years of age and older, involved in harvesting in 2002

Percentage of NWT population 15 years of age and older, involved in harvesting berries and plants in 2002. Source: 2002 NWT Regional Employment and Harvesting Survey2.

Looking forward

A reduced use of country food use is noted in the NWT’s medium and large communities. If the NWT’s population continues to move from small to larger-size communities, the percentage of people using country food may continue to decline in the future. People in larger communities appear to have less access, time or inclination to harvest country food than people living in smaller communities. They also have greater access to imported food and are more likely to have come from outside the NWT where the tradition of using country foods may not be as great.

Still, many NWT residents show a high reliance on country food as a daily source of energy and essential nutrients4,5. Considering the relatively low quality and high cost of market food available in most small communities in the North8, country food, and  an environment that sustain this resource, is essential to the health of NWT’s people4,6. Our changing climate is predicted to have a significant impact on the ability of NWT people to  access to country food, be able to store, dry, freeze and  conserve this food and  be able to predict animal behaviour and weather patterns to successfully harvest this food7.

Find out more

Other Focal Points

  • See WILDLIFE for more information on indicators related to country food. 


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref. 1 - NWT Bureau of Statistics. 2008. Statistics Quarterly.

Ref. 2 - NWT Bureau of Statistics. 2002. 2002 NWT Regional Employment and Harvesting Survey.

Ref. 3 - NWT Bureau of Statistics. 2009. NWT Community Survey.

Ref. 4 - Kuhnlein, H.V., O. Receveur, R. Soureida, and G.M. Egeland. 2004. Arctic Indigenous Peoples Experience the Nutrition Transition with Changing Dietary Patterns and Obesity. J. Nutri. 134: 1447-1453.

Ref. 5 - Kuhnlein, H.V. and O. Receveur. 2007. Loval Cultural Animal Food Contributes High Levels of Nutrients for Arctic Canadian Indigenous Adults and Children. J. Nutri. 137: 1110-1114.

Ref. 6 - Kuhnlein, H.V., O. Receveur, R. Soureida, and P.R. Berti. 2008. Unique Patterns of Dietary Adequacy in Three Cultures of Canadian Arctic Indigenous Peoples. Public Health Nutrition 11: 349-360.

Ref. 7 - Furgal, C. and S. Jacinthe. 2012. Climate Change, Health and Vulnerability in Canadian Northern Aboriginal Communities. Environmental Health Perspectives 114:1964-1970.

Ref. 8 - Receveur, O., M. Boulay, and H.V. 1997. Decreasing Traditional Food Use Affects Diet Quality for Adult Dene/Metis in 16 Communities of the Canadian Northwest Territories. J. Nutri. 127: 2179-2186.