Inuit Seal Hunting
Commercial vs. Indigenous Rights: A Fight for Survival
By Sarah Lowenberg
Throughout the Inuit communities of the Arctic Circle of Canada, Greenland, and the United States the indigenous peoples rely heavily on seal hunting for food and their clothing needs. These families frequently worry about making ends meet due to low income, resulting in their high dependence on seal hunting. Their reliance has led to the creation of a tradition for hundreds of years. However, the maltreatment of seals in the North American Arctic from the Annual Canadian Seal Hunt has led to groups such as the Humane Society and PETA to begin fighting against any sort of seal hunting. This not only affects the Annual Seal Hunt in Canada, but the lifestyle of the Inuit people, as well. While the Annual Seal Hunt does reinforce maltreatment of baby seals, these potential regulations should not pertain to the indigenous Canadian peoples due to their dependence on seals for their well-being.
The Humane Society and PETA believe that the Canadian Seal Hunt excessively and wastefully slaughters for profit, making this practice inhumane. The Canadian Seal Hunt is an annual event that occurs during March and April where roughly 300,000 baby seals, that are just shy of a month old, are killed.1 Baby seals are born with white fur, which starts to go away after the first twelve days of their life.2 Once this happens, it becomes legal to kill the seal.3 Most of these seals do not make it to three months of age prior to their being killed.4 The incentive for killing such young seals is the sum of money the hunters can earn from selling their fur, while leaving the rest of the seal to waste. They are able to sell this fur for high prices because the young seal fur is strongly prized within the fashion industry.5
The Inuit people need seal hunting not only for the fur, but in order to properly survive in their harsh environment, while using nearly all of the seal and killing only when necessary. The Inuit people only kill about 1,000 harp seals annually and 10,000 adult ring seals for a total of 11,000 seals annually. 6 This contributes to only about three percent of the totally seal trade in Canada.7 This is just a fraction of the seals hunted compared to the ones killed during the Annual Canadian Seal Hunt. A lot of the seals that the Inuit hunt are considered adults.8 The Inuit prefer older seals since they tend to be larger, allowing them to gather more fat and fur.9 During the Canadian Seal Hunt, however, they look for seals between the ages of twelve days old and three months old.10 They do not even give them time to learn how to swim before they kill them.11 While the seals they catch during the Canadian Seal Hunt are mainly used for their fur and the rest is discarded, the Inuit people use everything from the fur to blubber as a source of clothing and food, respectively.
However, the Humane Society and PETA disagree with seal hunting altogether, causing conflict between those against seal hunting, those who excessively hunt, and those who depend on it for survival. The Inuit people have come up with their own way to show the support of their seal hunting. They call it the “sealfie.”12 They are a series of pictures of them dressed in seal-derived clothing or next to dead seals.13 Another way the Inuit tried to show the rest of the world their reliance on seal hunting was through several interviews that they conducted. In an interview with Sandi Vincent, an Inuit member, she describes the seal hunt as “respectful” and that “in the Inuit culture it is believed that seals and other animals have souls and offer themselves to you.”14 If the Canadian government were to make seal hunting illegal then they would be taking a part of the Inuit culture away from them. With pressure on the subject of seal hunting and the emergence of the sealfies, this led a Humane Societies spokesperson, Christopher Peré, to speak out about the Inuit seal hunting by stating, “We are campaigning to end the commercial seal hunt, which… is almost entirely conducted by non-aboriginal people. We take no issue with the Inuit subsistence seal hunt, which occurs in a different part of the country, is much smaller in scale, targets different species of seals and occurs for very different reasons.”15 This is a large step in the direction of keeping seal hunting legal for the aboriginal people of Canada. If the Canadian government can agree with what the United States Humane Society has publicly stated then this can reinforce a future where seal hunting can be properly regulated while respecting the lifestyle of the Inuit people.
The Canadian government has no plan to make seal hunting illegal in the near future, particularly because it is a large export for their country. While all seal hunting is still legal in Canada, commercial and indigenous hunting are two largely different forms of hunting. The Inuit use seal hunting to sustain themselves in their harsh environment while commercial hunters only hunt for young fur and dispose of the bulk of the seal. As of now the Inuit do not have much to worry about in the realm of seal hunting becoming illegal. Although if the Canadian government keeps letting the annual seal hunt continue then, there might not be any seals left for the Inuit to hunt, thereby threatening the lives of their people.
1“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC, http://liberationbc.org/issues/seal_hunt, Last Updated May 2013.
2 “The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
3 “The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
4 “The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
5“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
6“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
7“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
8“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
9“Frequently Asked Questions”, Harpseals.org, http://www.harpseals.org/about_the_hunt/faqs.php, December 10, 2014.
10“The Canadian Seal Hunt”, Liberation BC.
11“Life Stages Of The Harp Seal”, IFAW.org, http://www.ifaw.org/sites/default/files/education-publications/New_life_on_the_ice.pdf, 2009.
12“Inuit Singer Tanya Tagaq's "Sealfie" Photo Supporting Seal Hunt Sparks Backlash”, Jason MacNeil, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/02/inuit-tanya-tagaq-sealfie_n_5077203.html, April 2, 2014.
13 “Inuit Singer Tanya Tagaq's "Sealfie" Photo Supporting Seal Hunt Sparks Backlash”, Jason MacNeil.
14“Canadian Inuit post 'sealfies' in protest over Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar-night selfie”, Ben Childs, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/28/inuit-seal-sealfies-selfie-degeneres-oscars, March 28, 2014.
15“Inuit Singer Tanya Tagaq's "Sealfie" Photo Supporting Seal Hunt Sparks Backlash”, Jason MacNeil.