Photo by David Kilabuk Photography
Today Inuit are challenging the seal ban in the European Unions’s highest court, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
“The basic regulation prevents any seal products from being put on the market in the European Union,” said Hendrik Viaene, ITK’s European lawyer. “This means that no seal product can be sold in the European Union in any member state.”
“Even though Inuit were exempt from this ban, we are highly affected,” said Paul Irngaut, wildlife communications advisor with Nunavut Tunngavik.
In the November/December issue of Spirituality & Health I wrote a piece called ‘In the Arctic, A Hunger for Ancestral Lands‘ which discusses the food insecurity issues in the far north and the reliance on Western foods.
In the research for that piece, I had the opportunity to interview Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
“Much of our traditional food is under attack with the anti-seal campaigns that began in the 1970s. It has had tremendous impact on the markets and the prices of seal pelts,” says Madeleine Redfern. “In the 1980s the US Marine Mammal Protection Act which banned the importation of seal skins into the United States also saw a significant number of hunters unable to sell their pelts at the historical levels and prices.”
In 1983 the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community approved a directive banning the importation of skins of seal pups for two years. In a small community like Resolute, income from sealing dropped from $54,000 in 1982 to $1,000 in 1983. The latest ban started on September 16, 2009 affecting trade from August 20, 2010. The loss of a market for seal skins affects those who live in far northern communities with little access to employment and economic development activities. The hunters simply cannot afford to hunt.
Seal skin boots made by Elizabeth Muckpaw. Photo from Civilization.ca.
The income gained from seal hunts enabled them to be able to feed and support their families, as well as other families. Food is often shared with community members who may be unable to hunt. Making goods from seal skins is a traditional activity that has been clothing Inuit people for thousands of years. There once was a market for such goods, which would also support families and their ability to afford goods needed for hunting, and food to put on their table. Remember Nunavut is a place where a cabbage can cost $28.
We continue to live off the land, eat the seal meat, eat the polar bear meat and whatnot. And the collective implications of environmentalists, activists, whether it be the fish plus the seal plus the bear, leaves very little for us as Inuit and Aboriginal people of Canada’s Arctic with very little to eat.”
“It’s about fighting environmentalists that try and put a stop to our way of life, our way of life and hunting, to provide for our families,” says Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in a CBC article.
70% of Nunavut homes are food insecure according to a 2007 Inuit health study. While the solution to creating food security for Indigenous Peoples in Arctic Canada is not easily found. Traditional food access seems to offer not only nutritional advantages, but also offers social and cultural value, which leads to holistic health. Lifting the EU ban will enable Inuit peoples to be able to live life in a more traditional manner. I am anxiously awaiting the results from today.
To learn more about sealing practises, check Sealing Nunavut site here.
Sealskin coat featured at Montreal fur show. Designed by Karliin Aariak, daughter of Nunavut premier.
Photo from Galdu.