Nunavut communities in petition to regain access to vital Amazon deliveries | Polarjournal
In 2020, this Iqaluit warehouse, previously owned by Canadian North, became an Amazon transport hub. Photo: Google Streetview
In 2020, this Iqaluit warehouse, previously owned by Canadian North, became an Amazon transport hub. Photo: Google Streetview

An Amazon warehouse in Iqaluit vastly expanded the selection of products and gave new agency to Nunavut residents, researcher tells Polar Journal. But recently, a loophole was closed and communities lost access to the free deliveries.

Take a look at the photo above.

The building is anonymous and gray, the sign on its front is outdated, and its general appearance is like any other Arctic storage facility. But in a short amount of time, that warehouse became vitally important to the 19,000 residents of Nunavut’s Qikiqtaaluk Region.

Because, in 2020, the American e-commerce giant Amazon opened a transport hub in that location. This meant that, to residents of Iqaluit, goods that had previously been highly expensive or entirely unavailable were suddenly only a few clicks away. Goods like flour, oil, canned food, pasta, rice, dried beans, peanut butter, spices, and many others.

In a region that struggles with poverty and where more than 70 percent of people live with food insecurity, this meant a lot.

“Before 2020 people had to go through the regular postal service which was a lot more expensive and also slower. So to people living in Iqaluit, the new warehouse made a big difference,” Katrin Schmid, a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna, told Polar Journal.

From 2022, Katrin Schmid spent a year and a half in five settlements across the Qikiqtaaluk Region doing anthropological fieldwork as part of an infrastructure research project called Infra North. During this time, she felt, firsthand, the difference Amazon made in Nunavut, and recently she wrote a blog post about it.
From 2022, Katrin Schmid spent a year and a half in five settlements across the Qikiqtaaluk Region doing anthropological fieldwork as part of an infrastructure research project called Infra North. During this time, she felt, firsthand, the difference Amazon made in Nunavut, and recently she wrote a blog post about it.

Allows teenagers to express themselves

At first, the Amazon Prime service, which meant free deliveries of all goods, only helped the 7,500 residents of Iqaluit. The rest of the region, places like Grise Fiord (Aujuittuq), Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), and Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq), still had to pay high shipping fees.

But soon, residents in these remote towns figured out a loophole. By ordering their goods to P.O. boxes in Iqaluit, they were able to have their Amazon packages shipped further north free of charge.

For a couple of years, this practice thrived and struggling families across the region enjoyed access to goods they could not have afforded otherwise.

“Some people, for instance, were able to repair their snow machines at much cheaper prices, and could go out hunting again which they were prevented from before,” Katrin Schmid said.

Others, she recounted, used the service to buy beads that reinvigorated traditional jewelry designs, or to buy pet food that helped feed packs of sled dogs. One of Katrin Schmid’s interviewees used Amazon to buy Nike products.

“She said that she doesn’t like any of the products that are in the stores. She liked to do sports but there weren’t any sport clothes that were not made for winter, so, to show who she is, she decided to order directly from Amazon,” Katrin Schmid said

“In this way, Amazon’s broader selection helps residents of Nunavut express themselves, which is especially important to teenagers and young people,” she said.

Petition to get it back

But a few months ago, in the spring of 2024, Amazon closed the loophole. All of a sudden, residents of Qikiqtaaluk’s remote towns no longer had access to the service they had become so accustomed to.

Now, whenever an Amazon package with an Iqaluit P.O. box would make it to these northern communities, it would be sent back instead of being delivered. This sparked outrage, and a petition to reverse the decision was launched; a petition that has currently been signed by around 3900 people.

“Amazon shipping cost is very high now that we cannot be using the free shipping postal code. We people of Nunavut face very high day to day expenses and we deserve to pay as much as they do down south,” Deanna Netser of Rankin Inlet, a signatory of the petition, wrote.

“This community of Kugluktuk will falter without Amazon access to diapers, formula, food, goods, anything mechanical or sport related. Toys for kids, educational supplies. The loss is deeply impacting for these isolated communities,”  wrote Tracey Bye of Leduc, Canada.

And one signatory of the petition, Wendy Makpah-Tatty of Iqaluit, put it more succinctly:

“Amazon is a must in the north,” she wrote.

Most runways in northern Nunavut are limited by the short runways where only Twin Otter planes like this one can land. This photo is from Kimmirut in September of 2022. Photo: Katrin Schmid
Most communities in northern Nunavut are limited by short runways where only Twin Otter planes like this one can land. This photo was taken in Kimmirut in September of 2022. Photo: Katrin Schmid

Amazon in the Arctic; a force for good

In the remote communities of Nunavut delivery of goods has long been an issue that has made the cost of living extremely high. For most goods, the settlements rely on shipments by small cargo planes, planes that cannot be larger due to the size of the remote runways.

For larger goods like new snowmobiles or bulk items like toilet paper, a cargo ship sails to the communities once a year during summer; the so-called sea-lift. Some people Katrin Schmid interviewed had stopped using the sea-lift entirely after Amazon’s entry into the region. It required them to order what they needed months in advance, and was simply too inflexible, she explained.

And once the sea-lift goods arrive in the remote communities of Qikiqtaaluk, there needs to be space to store them in, too, Katrin Schmid pointed out. Most houses in the region have built in storage rooms, but these have often been converted into bedrooms, as Nunavut is facing a housing crisis.

For this and other reasons, she has no doubt that Amazon has been a force for good in Nunavut. And remains so in Iqaluit where free deliveries are still available.

“Amazon has certainly been a good thing for Nunavut. It gives people agency. They are now able to choose what they order; whether that be food or clothing, things related to hobbies, or even to their own employment,” she said.

“Agency is something that is often lacking in Nunavut, and something that is not supported very much. It makes a big difference in people’s lives to be able to choose what they want to buy,” Katrin Schmid said.

Ole Ellekrog, Polar Journal AG

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