Saturday, March 15, 2008

The deal with seal...

Today was the International Day of Protest Against the Canadian Seal Hunt. Today was also the “Celebrating the Seal” event here in Iqaluit.

From what I gather, the protesters of the commercial seal hunt are against the practice of killing infant seals, and take issue with inhumane killing practices and wastage of seal parts. In my (limited) experience, these things do not happen in Nunavut. The seal hunt is not only an important part of the culture here, it is also a means to provide food and clothing for the Inuit people. Every single part of the seal is used. Seals are not “clubbed” and “skinned alive”, with parts left to rot on the ice. The skin is carefully removed and used to make very warm (and beautiful) clothing that is worn for many, many years. The seal oil is used to light the kulliq, the traditional lamp that was used inside igloos. Certainly, this is less essential than it used to be given the current availability of electricity in most houses in Nunavut, but the kulliq is still used in ceremonies, as it was today at the Arctic Winter Games arena. The seal meat is considered a delicious food, and as I witnessed today, the ENTIRE seal is eaten.

Just how it’s eaten is a bit different than a southerner would expect…bite sized pieces of frozen seal are cut using an ulu (traditional women’s knife) and are eaten raw.

Dr. J. and I joined in the “Celebrating the Seal” event and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The event was free and well attended. It was really nice to participate in a community outing. It was great to see people greeting each other and enjoying the sealskin clothing fashion show, listening to the kindergarten class singing a song and reenacting a seal hunt, and watching the throat-singers perform. People feasted on seal, caribou and bannock. By the time we left, the entire seal that was layed out on the floor of the arena had been eaten. It was also nice to see some of my patients (especially the ones with bad CHF and COPD) out and about, participating in community life. It reminds you that your patients aren’t just people who show up at clinic…they’re individuals with friends, interests, and important roles in the community.

They were also giving out bumper stickers with a picture of a hunter shooting seals that said “Eat seal, wear seal” in both English and Syllabics. I told Dr. J. he should put it on his car when we get back to Vancouver. He said that he would get the windows punched in with a bumper sticker like that in B.C. (probably true). It does bother me that some people, who have never lived in a place cold enough to need seal skin mitts and who have never met Inuit people who actually depend on hunting to have food to eat, feel entitled to protest against all seal hunting. I’d prefer to believe that the people who are protesting today are instead taking issue with cruelty to animals and with the practice of wasting animal parts for commercial gain. All I know is that you won’t see me holding a sign outside a government building. I was too busy enjoying a nice community event and thanking my lucky stars I didn’t get paged to go to the hospital!


Way Way Up said...

What always gets me is that when all these wacko groups do their big protests each spring they always confine themselves to large centres to ensure maximum media coverage. And they always carry signs with that iconic baby seal. Makes me wonder what their real agenda really is. To me, it appears they are more interested in simply drawing attention to themselves.

Yet, there are households in my community with 7,8, 10 people in them, forcing family members to sleep in shifts. Its easier for these protest groups to make fools of themselves and garner media attention for their misguided and culturally-insensitive views rather than deal with real issues.

I think its really sad these people pay more mind to a seal's quality of life rather than that of human beings. Utterly pathetic!

Excellent post by the way :)

towniebastard said...

I have an Inuk co-worker who is going to be going south in a few weeks. She asked me if I thought it was safe for her to wear her absolutely beautiful seal fur coat.

I asked her where she was going and she said Ottawa and Calgary. I said she was probably safe in those two places, but there certainly would be an element of risk.

The reaction to the seal hunt each year never ceases to spike my blood pressure. I have to stop reading it or I'll likely be visiting you guys at the hospital after suffering a stroke.

Ian Furst said...

From way down south Ontario -- brave post (and pictures). As part of the Inuit culture I have no problem but as part of retail store profit I'm not so happy about it. Good for you for showing the other side of the story though. Stay warm. Ian.

Doctor S. said...

Yes, these same types who protest the natives getting some seal meat, will also march down to the local grocery and buy some feed lot raised cow meat or caged chicken that spent its life in suffering. At least he seal, and the northern human, are living their natural existence.

dresserider said...

Attacking the essential food source of native people is both
insensitive and an indirect form of genocide.
I an effort to support the Inuit, is there an address where
the Eat Seal,Wear Seal bumper stickers can be purchased?
The throat singer Tanya Tagaq is making her voice heard on these