The war of images over the seal hunt is going as epic as a Hollywood movie.
The indigenous land claims group Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) is running a photo booth on April 10 and staging a humongous group “sealfie” on Friday April 11 in protest of some celebrity activists’ stance against the seal hunt. Meanwhile the Humane Society of the United States, which is the beneficiary of the donation generated by the famous photo tweeted from the Oscars by host Ellen DeGeneres, says it does not oppose the small, sustainable Inuit seal hunt, just the commercial one. The Inuit say that is not the point. They are using the attention to educate the world on their history and culture.
The fracas started at the end of March, when Academy Awards host DeGeneres tweeted a star-studded selfie from the Oscars that netted the Humane Society $1.5 million in donations. The Humane Society, and DeGeneres, strongly oppose the seal hunt in Canada.
The Inuit were caught in the middle. A teenager made a video. A journalist created a hashtag. The sealfie movement was born.
For its part, the Humane Society of Canada says the Inuit have got it all wrong and are protesting something that the group never objected to.
“We have never opposed the Inuit subsistence seal hunt that occurs in Canada’s North,” said Humane Society International/Canada executive director Rebecca Aldworth in a statement on April 8. “Animal protection groups oppose the commercial seal slaughter, which occurs in Atlantic Canada and is almost entirely conducted by non-aboriginal people.”
But to put it in these terms is to completely misunderstand the significance of the seal hunt and the role it plays in Inuit relations with the world, NTI leaders said.
“Various animal rights groups now say they do not oppose the Inuit seal hunt because it is sustainable and humane and provides food and clothing for people,” said NTI CEO James Arreak in a statement. “It is true that Nunavut’s seal hunt is humane and sustainable. It is also a commercial harvest. Inuit sell sealskins and seal products.”
The trade of seal and sealskin products is right up there with those of other animals that Inuit have harvested for millennia, including polar bear skins, narwhal tusks, walrus ivory, caribou meat and caribou antler products, the statement said. Moreover, the images being used to portray the seal hunt are for the most part no longer used.
“The footage usually shown by animal rights activists is decades old and sends inaccurate and false messages to audiences around the world about inhumane hunting practices,” Arreak said. “The actions of the animal rights activists, which is based on inaccurate information and is primarily meant to raise additional funds worldwide, has destroyed the market for Inuit sealskins and all sealskins.”
The European Union banned the import of seal products last year and upheld it this year despite Canada’s objections.
NTI staff are geared up to take photos from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the lobby of its office building, the group announced in a media release.
“Everyone is encouraged to come to the building wearing sealskin,” the group said. “NTI staff will take photographs and post them on Facebook and Twitter.”
Also to be posted on Facebook and Twitter is a giant group sealfie being organized by NTI, to be snapped just before the opening of a spring festival, Toonik Tyme, which celebrates Arctic culture—something the Inuit said Hollywood and animal-rights groups know nothing about.
“This is another perfect example of people and organizations using their wealth and influence to spread further misinformation about our way of life,” said NTI Vice-President James Eetoolook in a statement on April 7 announcing the sealfie-fest. “Their ignorance is appalling.”