Seal Ban

Spells Disaster for Canadian Inuit

By Noah Lebsack

Inuits are the indigenous people of the Canadian Artic. These people were once called “Eskimos” meaning “Eaters of Raw Meat” but have since changed their name to “Inuit” which, stands for “The People”. Inuit people live in places not commonly inhabited by others due to the cold climate; “Between 25,000 and 35,000 reside in Alaska, with other smaller groups in Canada, Greenland, and Siberia.”[i] These people rely heavily on seal, caribou and, whale as their main source of food in the harsh arctic environment where many plants do not grow for most of the year. Inuits also rely on these animals for income as these animals contain prized furs and fats. During the nineteenth and twentieth century, Russian and United States whaling operations, as well as fur traders hit these people hard.  In the early twentieth century the United States and Canada assimilated many Inuits in an effort to snuff out the Inuit culture. The Inuit way seemed to be disappearing until the 1970’s when Inuits began organizing, demanding, and winning more local autonomy.[ii] The Inuit people are facing an obstacle in this area, many international bans on seal products are being made and the Inuit people are having a hard time marketing their products. Inuit people are being punished for Canada’s slaughter of seals. Inuits have long history of harvesting seals for sustenance and rely heavily on this as a form of food and income.

Inuits have been hunting seals for 4,000 years in Canada. This practice is important culturally because traditionally, when an Inuit boy killed his first seal or caribou, a meal was held. “The meat is an important source of fat, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iron, and the pelts were prized for their warmth.”[iii]  The meat from seals is important for the peoples survival, “The Inuit diet is rich in fish, whale, and seal. Ringed seals were once the main staple for food, and have been used for clothing, boots, fuel for lamps, as delicacy, containers, igloo windows, and in harnesses for huskies.”[iv]  Though no longer used to this extent, ringed seals are still an important food source for the people of Nunavut. Inuits in Alaska also hunt these seals and rely on them for food and income. There is no denying the importance of this practice culturally, as well as a mean for survival in the harsh Artic regions. These seals go hand in hand with the Inuit people of the North and provide the Inuit people a way to make money where alternatives are sparse.

Inuit people have been thrown in and affected by the recent controversy of the seal hunt. Inuit people do not control much of the seal market. “The Canadian Seal Hunt” published by the Liberation BC stated, Inuit people kill only 3% of the total seal harvest each year, these seals are used for sustenance. The rest of the seals are killed by commercial companies and are killed entirely for profit. [v]

This is proof that Inuits are not the problem in seal harvesting. Ellen DeGeneres posted a selfie while hosting the Oscars this year protesting the seal hunt. This has created a major argument over who is the problem when it comes to the seal hunt. Ellen received backlash from this decision by many Inuit people who felt that this action was a slap in the face. They responded to her selfie by posting multiple “sealfies”, which were selfies of Inuit individuals clothed in seal fur coats and accessories.[vi]  This response from the Inuit community has strengthened the movement for progress in seeing the importance of the seal to these indigenous communities.

Seals are not just a source of income, but a keystone in the Inuit culture. Inuits respect the seals as their equals and thank them for their resources that they give. But seal hunting has been a problem not only in the present but also in the past. When Vikings landed in Canada around the fourteenth century, they began to harvest seals and whales on a large scale. This caused many problems for the Inuit people living there and many fights ensued. In Greenland, the Thule Inuit people actually “Reversed Colonialized” the region over a hundred years, effectively taking back their lands.[vii] Soon the British claimed Canada as its territory and the Inuits were forced to share the seals with the non-indigenous Englishmen. Around 1980, a postcard was released that pictured an Inuit man beating a seal with bat. These postcards were distributed to 12 million households in the United States and United Kingdom. [viii] This started a conflict and the concerned citizens pressured the legislative powers to stop this act, as well as successfully boycotting seal products. While the protesters did not stop the seal hunting, they effectively collapsed the sealskin market. This hurt Inuits in particular because their livelihood relies heavily on these animals. The seal market was beaten down, the Inuits way of survival was no longer a viable option to survive. Then in 2009 the European Union created a ban on seal to Europe. “On 16 September 2009 the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation banning the trade in seal products in the European Union. It applies to seal products produced in the EU and to imported products. The aim of the Regulation is to ensure that products derived from seals are no longer found on the European market.”[ix] This is could be the final blow that will cause the Inuit people to leave their culture behind and look for alternative to maintain their lives in the Arctic.

Sealing accounts for a small portion of the livelihood of many non-indigenous Canadians. Most who partake in these activities are fishermen during most of the year and are out to make a quick buck in the winter. Sealing is not an important economic resource for Canadians but is for Inuits. Bans on seal products are hurting both parties but more so Inuits who need that money. Even though people recognize that Inuits are not the problem in the conflict, they still will not buy their products. Inuits do not have accessibility to marketing resources that would help them sell their products the same way that commercial businesses do. “Undermining the market for sealskin has had a profoundly negative impact on the Inuit people who do not really have an option to move to a second income source. This has resulted in an increased loss of income and added to food insecurity for the Inuit people”.[x] Seeing how these bans impact Inuits, it is easy to come to the conclusion that change is needed but with Inuits in mind.

Inuit communities are fighting alongside Canada for the removal of the EU ban. Inuits however, should not be compared to the Canadian government as they are an independent people and rely on seals for their very livelihood. On November 24th of 2013, The World Trade Organization held a conference over this issue. In this conference the Inuits expressed their concerns on how the ban will affect them. “The seal ban demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of Arctic Peoples on the part of the EU,” said Terry Audla, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization.”[xi] Inuits are outraged at the fact that the EU (European Union) is banning one of their sole meanings of profit. This ban is a major problem for the Inuit people and will require a collective effort of the Inuits and their governments to work out a way to keep this tradition going.

             

Notes

[i] "Early Inuit Hunt." Canadian Sealers Association. February 2, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.sealharvest.ca/site/?page_id=648.

Jones, Sydney J. "Countries and Their Cultures." Inuit. January 1, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html.

[ii] "Early Inuit Hunt." Canadian Sealers Association. February 2, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.sealharvest.ca/site/?page_id=648.

Jones, Sydney J. "Countries and Their Cultures." Inuit. January 1, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html.

[iii] "Early Inuit Hunt." Canadian Sealers Association. February 2, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.sealharvest.ca/site/?page_id=648.

Jones, Sydney J. "Countries and Their Cultures." Inuit. January 1, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html.

[iv] "Early Inuit Hunt." Canadian Sealers Association. February 2, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.sealharvest.ca/site/?page_id=648.

Jones, Sydney J. "Countries and Their Cultures." Inuit. January 1, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html.

[v] "The Canadian Seal Hunt | Liberation BC." The Canadian Seal Hunt | Liberation BC. May 1, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://liberationbc.org/issues/seal_hunt. "Unintended Consequence? Traditional Inuit Ring Seal Hunt." Kivu. June 29, 2012. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.kivu.com/unintended-consequence-traditional-inuit-ring-seal-hunt/.

[vi]  Childs, Ben. "Canadian Inuit Post "sealfies" in Protest over Ellen DeGeneres's Oscar-Night Selfie." The Guardian. March 28, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/28/inuit-seal-sealfies-selfie-degeneres-oscars.

[vii] Shoalts, A. (2011, March 8). Reverse Colonialism - How the Inuit Conquered the Vikings - Canadian Geographic. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=434

[ix] Trade in seal products. (2009, October 4). Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/biodiversity/animal_welfare/seals/seal_hunting.html

[x] "The Canadian Seal Hunt | Liberation BC." The Canadian Seal Hunt | Liberation BC. May 1, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://liberationbc.org/issues/seal_hunt.

"Unintended Consequence? Traditional Inuit Ring Seal Hunt." Kivu. June 29, 2012. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.kivu.com/unintended-consequence-traditional-inuit-ring-seal-hunt/.

[xi] Quinn, Eilis. "Eye on the Arctic – Why Inuit Are Still Fighting the EU Seal Ban." RCI English. November 29, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2014. http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2013/11/29/eye-on-the-arctic-why-inuit-are-still-fighting-the-eu-seal-ban/.