Aaju Peter

Michelle Valberg's Aaju Peter, shot in Iqaluit.

Aaju Peter is an Inuit activist and recipient of the Order of Canada in 2012 for her tireless efforts to preserve Inuit culture. Born in Northern Greenland, Peter moved up and down the west coast as a child with her family. Her father was a preacher and teacher. In 1981, Peter moved to Iqaluit where she has focused most of her activism.

Peter has been a vocal supporter of the Inuit seal hunt and its vital role in indigenous culture. She makes ready to wear seal skin clothing, from coats to tank tops with pelts bought from local hunters. The plummeting market value of seal pelts has a salient impact on her communities.

According to tradition, hunters sell off seal pelts to pay for their base hunting costs and for profit. This allows them to return the highly nutritious seal meat to their communities free of charge. Peter says there is as much iron in a palm sized portion of seal meat as there is in 56 sausages. With temperatures dropping to -30 Celsius and below in remote communities, the hunters play an essential role. Not only is their hunt a cherished culture practice but it is a form of sustainable self-reliance in Inuit communities.

However, pressure from animal rights activists has spurred a series of bans on the commercial seal hunt. In 2009 the European Union banned the import of all seal products. Russia has recently followed suit. Though the bans have clauses allowing for the sale of "traditional and sustainably hunted" seals, there's no real definition about what this means. There are no regulations to indicate if a seal pelt has been hunted by indigenous hunters or not.

Peter has continued to campaign against these bans. She is a lawyer by trade and specializes in Aboriginal issues.