Iqaluit residents celebrate their favourite sea mammal

Say it loud, say it proud: we love our seal meat


Iqaluit residents feasted on raw seal meat and reveled in the beauty of sealskin clothing at a community gathering held this past March 14 to assert Inuit pride in the Arctic seal hunt.

"It was very civilized," organizer Aaju Peter said of the event, which drew between 300 and 400 people to the Arctic Winter Games arena.

While hunters skinned and butchered two fresh seals, Iqaluit residents displayed seal-skin garments and watched children from a local daycare enact a seal-hunting pantomime.

Volunteers then distributed plates of fresh seal meat, bannock and bowls of steaming seal-blood soup.

Television and print journalists from Belgium and France, brought to Nunavut by the Department of Foreign Affairs, viewed part of the event.

But it's not clear if the Inuit message got through to newspaper readers and television viewers in Europe.

In April, the European parliament will decide whether or not to approve a proposed ban in 27 European Union member nations on all imported seal products, with the exception of those produced by Inuit from Canada and Greenland.

Under the EU proposal, Inuit seal products could only be traded "as part of non-commercial exchanges between Inuit communities for cultural, educational or ceremonial ­purposes."

Inuit leaders and Nunavut government officials last week denounced the EU scheme, saying the destruction of the European market for seal products would do damage to Inuit in spite of the exemption.

Simon Awa, Nunavut's deputy minister of the environment, appeared at the celebration clad in a big, blue double-breasted coat made of sealskin.

Awa, who attended recent gatherings in Brussels and Prague to make the Inuit case, said it's tough to counter the messages propagated by well-funded animal rights group.

Should the EU proposal be adopted this April, Awa said the Nunavut government will likely sit down and look at the idea of coming up with a "Plan B" to help Nunavut hunters who may suffer as a result of the expected collapse of the European seal products market.

Speaking in the Nunavut legislature March 17, Daniel Shewchuk, Nunavut's minister of the environment, said Nunavut will follow the possible seal product ban with "further action," in collaboration with the federal government, while Premier Eva Aariak told the house her government had no intention of giving up due to the importance of the seal for Nunavummiut.

March 15, the day after Iqaluit's seal celebration, saw anti-seal hunt protests in 11 Canadian cities and other centres around the world,

In Madrid, 100 people stripped naked and smeared themselves in fake blood. Some also wore red underwear, as members of Spain's animal rights group Equanimal protested what they called a "massacre" of seals in Canada.

"We want to sensitize people to the fact that animals are capable of feeling and suffering like us, and to protest against the massacre of hundreds of thousands of seals which is about to begin in Canada," spokesperson Silvia Toval told reporters.

At around the same time, about 100 anti-sealing demonstrators attended a rally in Ottawa's Byward Market.
The anti-seal hunt demonstrators later moved to Parliament Hill and to the embassy of the European Commission.

On Parliament Hill, the anti-sealing march came face-to-face with a group organized by the Nunavut Sivuniksavut ­program in Ottawa.

Students and teachers wore Nunavut-made sealskin clothing and held placards bearing messages like "Seals are meals," "Avoid cultural prejudice" and "Part of our heritage."

Sealers in Canada, Greenland, and Namibia harvest about 60 per cent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year around the world.

Residents of northern Europe and Russian also hunt seals, but recently Russia banned the hunting of baby seals around northwestern Russia's White Sea.

And Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, called seal hunting a "bloody industry."

"It is clear that it should have been banned a long time ago," Putin said last month, adding that his government would compensate hunters.

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