A guest post by Aaju Peter
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 import of seal products and were being very successful lobbying in Holland. My son, Aggu, Jim Winter, a pro-sealing activist from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I went to speak with the Government of Holland representatives, who were discussing to ban the import of seal products into Holland. A large anti-sealing campaign was taking place outside the Canadian Embassy, to shame Canada for killing seals. Teenage boys were holding large posters of east coast sealers and seals being harvested in an effort to influence 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 in spite of the fact that white coat seal pups were no longer harvested by east coast sealers since 1983.
The Government of Holland proceeded to ban the import of seal products. The next step for the large, organized and well-funded anti-sealing organizations were 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 every day for years leading up to the vote in 2009. 550 for 50 against? As a small Canadian delegation of pro-sealers, we traveled to Strassbourg to try to tell the politicians that seals were not an endangered species; that we followed 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. Even 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. 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. The day’s offer was rows and rows of meat from cows, chicken, and pigs. Little pictures of cows were proudly displayed on the veal. I was flabbergasted. I could not believe that all these politicians—just after 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. 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. How European animals are raised and how they are slaughtered is not questioned. Somehow seals had became a holy animal. It is the poster child of animal rights organizations because they look cute, with 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 so cute. What about a chick? They are very cute. And a piglet. Oink, oink. So cute. That 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 at Hot Docs, Barrie Film Festival and imagineNative in Toronto. She is receiving awards for her beautiful and stirring work gracefully leading a chorus of voices who patiently tell the audience and show them what they need to know about who Inuit are in the Canadian arctic and what an integral part the seal is to us. At one of the screening 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 (animal rights groups) lied”.
Since the large demonstrations against sealing in the early 70s and 80s, the price for sealskins was finally up to where it had been pre anti-sealing campaigns, around $100. Leading up to the EU legislation to ban the import of seal products into Europe, the price kept falling and went down to between $10 and $20 dollars. The income for sealers went down by ninety percent. How can an Inuk hunter afford to go hunting to feed his community?
The hardship that animal rights groups, such as Greenpeace, IFAW, and PETA has 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 follow the film and be more vigilant in our support of the industry and demand that the anti-sealing groups be accountable for their misinformation.
Born in 1960 in Arkisserniaq, a northern Greenland community, Aaju has lived up and down the west coast of her native country as a result of her father’s teaching and preaching career. She has travelled Greenland, Europe and Canada performing modern drum dance, traditional singing, and displaying sealskin fashions. Currently Aaju has a home-based sealskin garment business, translates, volunteers for the music society, collects traditional law from elders for the Department of Justice, and raises her five children—just recently, she graduated from Akitsiraq Law School and was called to the bar.
Click here to read more about Angry Inuk.