By Aaju Peter | June 17, 2020
© Michelle Valberg
By Aaju Peter | June 17, 2020
© Michelle Valberg
My travels to Europe to promote Canadian and Inuit sealing rights started in March, 2007. Anti-sealing organizations had successfully lobbied the German government to ban the import of seal products and were being very successful lobbying in Holland. I went to speak with the Government of Holland representatives with my son, Aggu, and Jim Winter, a pro-sealing activist from St. John’s, Newfoundland.
When we arrived, a large anti-sealing campaign was taking place outside the Canadian Embassy to shame the country for allowing the seal hunt. Teenage boys were holding large posters of East Coast sealers harvesting seals, in an effort to convince Europeans and the media that killing seals is a bad thing and should be stopped. Other demonstrators were dressed up as white coat seal pups. (This despite the fact that harvesting white coat seal pups has been banned since 1983.)
The Government of Holland proceeded to ban the import of all seal products.
© Stephen Gorman
The next step for the large, organized, and well-funded anti-sealing organizations was to stop the import of seal products into all twenty-six European states all at once. The European politicians and their electorate were being harassed by these organizations every day for years leading up to the vote in 2009. The result was that 550 representatives voted for the ban, and just fifty against.
Our small Canadian delegation of pro-sealers travelled to Strasbourg to try to tell the politicians that seals were not an endangered species; that we follow strict hunting regulations; that banning the import of seal products into Europe would have devastating financial, cultural, and social consequences for Inuit and remote communities in Canada.
Before the vote, the chair of the European Union sealing committee told us that even though she knew that the seal population had grown from 1.5 million in the 1970s to 7 million today, she would have to vote to ban the import of seals because that is what her electorate wanted her to do. So, the legislation to ban the import of seal products into Europe was passed because of European morality—because of the view that it is immoral to kill a seal.
Astonishingly, just after the vote, all six hundred parliamentarians and our small Canadian delegation went downstairs to a large restaurant to eat lunch. On offer were rows and rows of meat from cows, chickens, and pigs. Little pictures of cows were proudly displayed on the veal.
I was flabbergasted. I could not believe that all these politicians—after just voting to ban the import of seal meat and seal products into Europe—without any hesitation stuffed themselves with all these animals that had been grown specifically to be slaughtered for their own consumption.
© Dennis Minty
Is this moral? Absolutely, according to an old man, because the animals that are eaten in Europe are not living a free life as the seals do, and therefore it was perfectly fine to slaughter them. How European animals are raised and how they are slaughtered is not questioned. Yet somehow seals have become a holy animal. Seals are the poster child of animal rights organizations because they look cute, with those big eyes that always seem to be crying. (In fact, this is a biological process that occurs to prevent their eyes from freezing.)
A calf has large eyes and it is also cute. What about a chick? They are very cute. And a piglet. Oink, oink. So cute!
This is a whole bunch of hypocrisy.
Alethea Arnaquq Baril, a young Inuit woman, has been documenting and filming our campaign since it started. She has been screening her documentary, Angry Inuk, at film festivals such as Hot Docs, Barrie Film Festival, and imagineNative in Toronto. She is receiving awards for her beautiful and stirring work.
The film gracefully leads a chorus of voices, who patiently show the audience who Inuit are and what an integral part the seal plays in our culture and livelihoods. At one of the screenings a young girl stood up and asked, “Where can I buy sealskin earrings?”. That was brilliant! Alethea promised to make a pair for her. At another screening another young girl says to me, “That is so wrong. They [the animal rights groups] lied”.
Since the first large demonstrations against sealing in the early '70s and '80s, the price for sealskins had been climbing and was finally up to where it had been, around $100 per skin. Leading up to the EU's legislation to ban the import of seal products into Europe, the price kept falling, until it was finally between $10 and $20. The income for sealers went down by ninety percent. How can an Inuk hunter afford to go hunting to feed his community?
The hardships that animal rights groups, such as Greenpeace, IFAW, and PETA, have caused to Inuit and coastal communities in Canada is not acceptable. In the Canadian Arctic, we now have the highest food insecurity in North America.
What do we do? We have to urge others to watch Alethea's film and be more vigilant in our support of the sealing industry. We must demand that the anti-sealing groups be held accountable for their misinformation.
© Lee Narraway