Angry Inuk – The Impact of Opposition to Seal Hunting on the Inuit
Angry Inuk is a documentary film written and directed by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuk film-maker from Iqaluit. It aired recently on the CBC and provided interesting insight into the impact on the Inuit of efforts by animal welfare groups to ban seal hunting.
Seal Hunting – Part of Inuit Culture
Angry Inuk explains that seal hunting has been a key part of Inuit life for a very long time, in fact thousands of years. Inuit relied on seal meat as an important part of their diet and relied on the seal skins for their warmth. Trade in seal skins was a main part of the economy for well over 100 years. The government arranged for wild life officers to buy seal skins and subsequently aggregated these purchases for sale on international markets.
1983 – Inuit Great Depression
According to the documentary, in 1983, the European Union banned the sale of all product from whitecoat seal pups. The market for seal skins suddenly crashed, and this had a devastating impact. The EU ban resulted from pressure from animal welfare groups who had no understanding of the importance of seal hunting to the Inuit, and had been working to shut down the seal hunt since the 1960’s. In fact, the rights groups did not even know that the Inuit did not sell skins from whitecoat seal pups.
1983 Market Crash – Life Altering Event
The 1983 seal skin market crash caused significant problems. Hunting has always been a way of life for the Inuit. Hunters provide local food to their families and communities, which is essential considering the very high cost of food brought in from the south. There are costs associated with hunting, for example, the cost of owning and maintaining a snow mobile. The seal skin trade provided income to offset such costs, but with its collapse, this source of revenue dried up and as a result there was a decline in hunting and people were forced to seek other limited sources of income. The decline in hunting led to less availability of local food which was often replaced by “junk food” imported from the south. So called “junk food” is expensive itself, but less so than more nutritious imported alternatives.
The suicide rate which was already very elevated increased after the market for seal skins crashed, causing increased stress on the Inuit.
The Search for Alternative Economic Opportunities – Harsh Impact on the Environment
The economic impact of the collapse of the market for seal skins led governments to seek out alternative economic opportunities. One such endeavor was a plan to undertake seismic testing for oil and gas reserves around Baffin Island. The Inuit were concerned and understood that such testing could have a devastating impact on marine life, for example, damage to the hearing of marine mammals. After a long battle, in July 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada put an end to plans for seismic testing in Nunavut on the basis that there was insufficient consultation with the Inuit.
Angry Inuk makes the argument that in an effort to protect seals, animal rights groups contributed to a situation where all wildlife could be at greater risk.
Anger and Resentment
Angry Inuk portrays that anger and resentment continue to exist, but that Inuit anger tends to be quieter.
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril described her plan of action after thinking about how a tiny remote population could change mind of millions of southerners.
She drew on an idea from when Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars in 2014 and had at that time the most re-tweeted photo ever featuring a group of Hollywood celebrities. Around that time, Samsung agreed to donate a dollar for each re-tweet and Ellen chose to donate $1.5 million to the Humane Society of the United States.
Alethea decided to post a “sealfie” to bring awareness of how Inuit are affected by the ban in the trade of seal products and to get as many retweets as possible. Seal hunters were and are called horrible things. It seems like little has changed. Angry Inuk portrayed the numerous hateful messages that arose in response to Althea’s “sealfie” from those who oppose seal hunting, and simply do not understand the importance of hunting to the Inuit.
Era of Reconciliation – Take the Time to Understand
We live in a time of reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples. But I have often seen the question posed over the past year, what does this reconciliation mean and what should a person be doing? Taking the time to learn and understand stories like that portrayed in Angry Inuk, I think should be part of this call to reconciliation. After watching Angry Inuk, I better understand why some Inuit may harbour feelings of resentment and anger. And of course there are many other injustices that have impacted our indigenous peoples which we are now coming to know about.
It’s not possible to change the past, but understanding it can help to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
See our previous posts on the north here: