Inuk TikToker Showcases Inuit Culture & Food

May 3, 2023

Colleen Mackay, an Inuk woman in her late 30s from Ikpiarjuk, Nunavut, has become a sensation on TikTok by sharing videos of herself enjoying traditional Inuit food. Pursuing a master’s degree in sociology at Carleton University, Mackay uses her platform to not only showcase tasty food but also promote Inuit culture.

Her favorite meal includes just four items: a frozen narwhal slab, a cardboard sheet to eat it on, an ulu or knife to slice and score it, and soy sauce for dipping. Recently, she added another ingredient: her phone’s camera. Under the handle @iniqunaq, she started using TikTok in September 2020 to connect with other Indigenous people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mackay’s videos feature her eating various Inuit foods, called Inuksiut in Inuktitut, such as frozen caribou, narwhal, walrus, seal, beluga, muskox, polar bear, and arctic char. Her most popular video, with over 5 million views, shows her and her partner, Ruben Komangapik, opening a box of frozen narwhal meat in their kitchen. They proceed to slice, score, and eat the raw, frost-covered narwhal skin and blubber.

Mackay notes that people are often shocked or curious about the way they eat. “Even in Canada, not a lot of people know about Inuit in the Arctic,” she says. Many viewers have questions about the taste of the food, why it is eaten frozen and raw, and the joke about seafood delicacies being called “vegetables.” Mackay explains that they obtain essential vitamins like C and D from traditional foods like whale blubber and skin.

Although she receives criticism from animal-rights activists and vegans, Mackay stands firm in her belief that Inuit have been sustainably hunting in the Arctic for thousands of years. “Our traditional food is part of our culture—access to it helps food security, and we have the right to eat it,” she asserts.

Grace Egeland, the principal investigator of the International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey, states that Inuit food is nutrient-dense. Even a small amount of traditional food contributes to a healthier diet. It also provides a “vitamin for the soul,” associating with rich memories of Elders, community gatherings, and a true sense of belonging.

While Mackay’s diet doesn’t consist solely of frozen raw meat, she enjoys other dishes like salads and nachos—referred to as “Western food.” She sources these ingredients from her local grocery store in suburban Ottawa, home to one of the largest Inuit populations outside Nunavut. However, she acquires “real food” or “country food” from friends, family, or Komangapik’s hunting trips.

Komangapik started Reconseal Inuksiuti, a non-profit aiming to combat food insecurity and promote reconciliation by celebrating seal hunting. The organization has donated over 700 pounds of harvested seal meat to Tungasuvvingat Inuit, a community center for Inuit living in Ottawa. The skins were donated to Isaruit Inuit Arts, a center in Ottawa that promotes Inuit arts and culture.

Mackay emphasizes the importance of sharing in Inuit culture. “Everything we get, we share with others,” she says. With her TikTok videos, she shares her food experiences with thousands of viewers. Her goal is to teach the world about Inuit food, address food-related challenges faced by Inuit people, and emphasize the importance of access to traditional food.

The International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey found that 68.8% of Inuit households in Nunavut are food insecure—six times higher than the national average. In a recent trip to Iqaluit, Mackay took her audience through a Northmart grocery store, pointing out the high prices of some items and the importance of government subsidies for certain products.

Mackay hopes to provide resources for urban Inuit and those who grew up in foster care or were adopted by non-Inuit families, who may not know about their traditional food. By directing her followers to resources like the Tungasuvvingat Inuit community center, she aims to give every Inuk the opportunity to learn about and eat their traditional food.

Many viewers have expressed appreciation for her content, and Mackay continues to post videos to represent and educate. She insists that she will never stop eating her traditional food, as it is essential for her health and well-being. “If you’re in a bad mood, once you have Inuksiut, you’re going to be very happy. It’s healing for us, and we have the right to eat it.”