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With friends like these

support for Inuit livelihoods through seal hunt

A Nunavut Sivuniksavut student shows his support for Inuit livelihoods through sealing during a demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in March 2014.

By Terry Audla
From the tone of many of their comments recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the biggest anti-sealing organizations in the world have become our new BFFs. Actually, they would have you believe that they’ve been our friends all along, taking a hate-theseal-hunt, love-the-seal-hunter attitude to the Inuit way of life.

“We’ve never campaigned against the indigenous hunt,” said a “surprised” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) after Tanya Tagaq called out the organization in her Polaris Prize acceptance speech in September. PETA’s defensive posturing was short-lived; in the same four-sentence statement, the organization instructed Tagaq to “stop posing her baby with a dead seal and read more.”

That last line refers to the heap of scorn unleashed on Tagaq earlier this year after she posted a #sealfie of her infant daughter during a family hunting trip. Tweeters called her “heartless” and “mindless” and threatened to have her child put in care. PETA links itself to this hateful outburst while at the same time claiming a “hands-off” policy toward Inuit hunters. Disingenuous is putting it mildly.

This past October, Humane Society International (HSI) joined the love-in by applauding a joint statement by Canada and the European Union (EU) to enable access of Inuit seal products to European markets.

“We have never campaigned against Inuit subsistence sealing, which occurs in a different part of the country [than the East Coast hunt], at a much smaller scale, for different reasons,” said Rebecca Aldworth, of HSI.

Further down in the celebratory statement, HSI is triumphant that “global markets for commercial seal products are closing fast,” hailing the EU, the United States, Mexico, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Taiwan for ending trade in seal products.

Aldworth’s romanticized definition of subsistence doesn’t seem to include feeding and clothing children if she thinks that Inuit can make a living through the trade of seal products in markets that organizations like hers have destroyed and are still actively campaigning to destroy.

In The Huffington Post, Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) made the point more clearly: “Pretty much no one is campaigning against Inuit sealing… Inuit have a constitutional right to hunt and eat seals and no one is asking them to give it up,” Fink wrote last year. “Unlike Inuit sealing, the commercial hunt is a hunt primarily for fur, which is used to make unnecessary luxury products for export that few people can afford.”

So let me get this straight: Inuit can eat seals, but only if we keep the skins to ourselves? And we can’t engage in any activity that might be deemed “commercial,” like, say, participating in the 21st century economy, because that might open us up to the ire of our so-called friends who thus far have restrained themselves from campaigning against us?

And even if we were to attempt to rebuild an international market that has been decimated by decades of misinformation and misplaced morality judgements, we would most likely fail because the products that we produce are both unnecessary and unaffordable?

What I find perhaps most reprehensible about this line of thinking is that there is a network of organizations criss-crossing the globe that would seek to define what subsistence means for Inuit or, in fact, what it means to be an Inuk in the modern economy.

Groups such as PETA, HSI and IFAW can claim that their campaigns have never been directed at Inuit. But they cannot claim that their campaigns have not harmed us. They cannot claim to be ignorant of the impacts that their actions have had on Inuit livelihoods for generations. They cannot claim to be oblivious to market dynamics. But if they do, then we are here to help them understand. That’s what friends are for.

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