ICC wants Greenland to drop seal-skin import restriction

GN-led delegation heads to Greenland this week


Saying that Arctic governments and Inuit organizations “must stand together” to confront the anti-sealing movement, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference urged the Greenland home rule government this week to halt its restrictions on Canadian sealskins.

“The way that this case was handled by the Greenland home rule government was very unfortunate,” said Aaqaluk Lynge, president of ICC Greenland.

Lynge said Greenland’s decision not only has the potential to hurt Canadian Inuit seal hunters; he said it’s also a blow to circumpolar unity.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the chair of ICC, agrees. “It does not help us… A certain amount of damage control will have to be done.”

To that end, Watt-Cloutier will take part in a GN-led delegation that will visit Greenland this week to meet with Greenlandic officials.

“I think that we will try to help them think harder and be more reflective,” Watt-Cloutier said.

Nunavut’s environment minister, Olayuk Akesuk, will head the group, which includes Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik.

Okalik said in an interview this week that he hopes to find a solution to the issue in talks with Greenlandic officials.

But in an interview given to a Greenlandic newspaper this past Tuesday, one of those Greenlandic cabinet ministers appeared to be unwilling to lift the import restriction soon.

Finn Carlsen, the home rule government’s minister for Fisheries and Hunting, said this past Tuesday morning, in an interview with a Greenlandic newspaper, that he didn’t even know that visitors from Nunavut were about to arrive in his country.

“It would have been nice for me to know precisely what Paul Okalik and Olayuk Akesuk want to speak with me about. I have only heard of their arrival through the media,” Carlsen said in the newspaper story.

And he said that he has no plans right now to ask his cabinet colleagues to lift the import restrictions.

“I would very much like to trade with Nunavut, but the government has made a decision to cease importing seal pelts, primarily because we are self-sufficient in this category. So, I cannot change that decision alone and have no plans to present a proposal for a change to the government. The matter will be re-visited if Great Greenland (finds itself) lacking of pelts.”

The dispute started on Jan. 6, when Hans Enoksen, Greenland’s premier, ordered Great Greenland, a government-owned firm that makes high-fashion sealskin garments at a plant in Qaqorqtoq, to stop buying Canadian seal skins.

That’s because of a media-generated furor that broke out in Denmark after a Danish television network aired video footage on Jan. 5 — supplied by the Humane Society of the United States — that purported to show scenes from the 2005 Newfoundland seal hunt.

Enoksen’s home rule government imposed the restriction after getting email from the Danish justice minister, who faced political pressure in Copenhagen.

Aaqaluk Lynge said he believes that the Greenlandic government’s decision is a hasty over-reaction, and a misguided attempt to protect Greenland’s seal skin industry from the animal rights movement.

The right way to protect Inuit seal hunters, he said, is for all Arctic leaders to form a common front, and he said Canada and Greenland should form a partnership to promote the sustainable development of seals and other resources.

“I have been working on this issue for 30 years, and the only way to deal with it is through unity,” Lynge said.

And he points out that the U.S. humane society’s characterization of the Newfoundland seal hunt is extremely inaccurate: most seals there, as in the Arctic, are killed with rifles, not clubs.

And Watt-Cloutier pointed out that Canadian seal populations are healthy, not threatened by harvesting, and not considered to be endangered

In 2004, the World Conservation Union passed a resolution calling on member countries not to ban the importation of seal products harvested from abundant populations.

For that reason, the Greenlandic restriction on Canadian seal skins violates the spirit and intent of international trade laws, Watt-Cloutier said.

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