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'Angry Inuk' doc makes case for sustainable seal hunting in Canada

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Director, writer and producer Alethea Arnaquq-Baril grew up seal hunting with her family. Her documentary Angry Inuk takes us to Nunavut, far up in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. For the Inuit communities she visits, seal hunting is their main income and, next to fish, their only sustainable food source. By following the hunters, she hopes to show the humane nature of seal hunting and demonstrate its importance to the Inuit way of life.

Arnaquq-Baril intends to provide a counter image to the brutal images promoted by animal rights groups. The opening sequence of the movie shows a spring-time hunt, in which the seal is shot from the edge of the ice floe and then picked up in a row boat. The hunter then skins the seal on the ice. His sons help, washing the skin in the water's edge. The hunter butchers the seal and skilfully braids the intestines, which are frozen hard by the time the group get back to the community. The seal meat is eaten fresh and mostly raw, shared among the whole community from the hunter's living room.

For many Inuit, seal meat provides one of the only sustainable, reliable sources of food. In Nunavut, everyday staples are typically twice as expensive as groceries in south Canada. The right to hunt is therefore a question of survival for many.

However, the film emphasises that seal hunting is also necessary to Inuit economic independence. Trading seal pelts allows Inuit communities to participate in the worldwide economy. Once the pelt is cured, the hunter sells it to a wildlife officer, from where it is sold at international auction on the hunter's behalf. Without a demand for seal pelts, the Inuit communities in Nunavut can't make a living. Anti-seal hunting campaigns have greatly damaged the trade in pelts and drastically reduced their value.

 

 

An alternative source of income for Inuit communities would be mining the rich minerals found in the Nunavut region. However, the people featured in this film are rightly sceptical of the sustainability and ethics of this option, not to mention that mining often entails exploitation of the local Indigenous communities.

As one student activist argues, "We need to stop the cultural prejudice that is imposed on us by not being allowed to benefit from our natural surroundings without having to drill into the ground. And that's really all we want as a people."

The violence of the anti-seal hunting sentiment is made clear as Inuit activists start to respond by posting images of their hunting on social media, accompanied by the hashtag "sealfie." When Indigenous musician Tanya Tagaq posts an image of her baby next to a freshly caught seal, she receives a barrage of threats, including photoshopped images of sealers clubbing and skinning her daughter. This violence lies in contrast to the quieter anger of the Intuit communities. It presents a formidable opposition.

Angry Inuk hopes that, by showing the perspective of Inuit communities, it will change the global attitude towards seal hunting. It provides an effective counter to the image of seal hunting put forward by animal rights groups, and shows that seal hunting is humane and necessary to the survival of Inuit communities in northern Canada. A lot more awareness about the issue needs to be raised, however, to counter the million-dollar industry that is anti-seal hunt campaigns.

Angry Inuk is featured at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. It last showing is May 7 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre. For distribution information contact the National Film Board of Canada.

 

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