The Arctic is known for its sparse vegetation, but Inuinnait have long relied on local plants for medicine, food and household materials. During the short summer months, we harvest Arctic cotton grass for soapstone lamp wicks, collect berries by the pail and use twigs as insulation beneath the mattresses in our tents.
The Arctic willow is particularly important to our culture. Its wood can be burned for fuel and used for drying racks, baskets and kayak ribs. The buds and young leaves are chewed for vitamin C.
“Every time when my grandmother and me went out getting willows for firewood, she would take a leaf off for me to eat. She said it would make more willows grow.”
– Mary Avalak, 2013, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut