The Quilt of Belonging has been sharing its message of acceptance and community since it began travelling the country in 2005. It’s the culmination of Esther Bryan’s dream to find a way to celebrate our common humanity while showcasing the uniqueness of Indigenous peoples and settlers who live side by side, like just the squares that comprise the quilt.
Made of 263 blocks, standing ten feet high and covering 120 feet of floor space, it is magnificent, breathtaking, and stirs a flood of emotion that is surprisingly overwhelming and quite difficult to suppress.
The 70 blocks allotted to embody the founding First Nation, Inuit, and Metis nations cradle and support a cacophony of immigrant squares. Centre top of the quilt is home to a red velvet square sparsely decorated with iridescent gold beading and gold thread fashioning a stylized maple leaf. The top of the quilt has been left unfinished in recognition that Canada, as a nation and a people, remains a work in progress.
One can’t help but admire the six Inuit squares made from traditional materials depicting scenes and symbols from traditional Northern life. Fully five of the squares incorporate seal skin and fur while four include one or more ulus — a tool traditionally used by Inuit women to skin, clean and portion seal meat.
The sight of seal skin, fur, and now meat often upsets and angers Canadians living south of the Arctic Circle. Many settlers quickly impose judgement on those who sustainably live and thrive from the bounty Mother Earth provides Northern dwellers. This sense of superiority is really a function of cognitive dissonance that enables individuals and groups to thrust new found moral rebirth on others without engaging in dialogue, let alone meaningful dialogue, before pronouncing judgement and imposing allocated punishment.
To give meaning to the process of Truth and Reconciliation, the settlers of this country have to be prepared to commit to tangible action or Reconcili-Action. Without significant restitution along with restoration of nationhood and self-determination, apologies are hollow.
Unfortunately, Canadian settlers are disadvantaged because before they can even contemplate undertaking meaningful action, they need to know and understand the true history of this country. Deliberate omissions of fact and misinformation have led us to draw conclusions and make assumptions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples that could not be farther from the truth.
That’s why it is important for settlers to watch, read and listen to an Indigenous point of view each week from now until the end of the year. The National Film Board has made it easy to commit to this goal thanks to its wealth of material, including Angry Inuk.
Filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril opens her compelling documentary by recalling some of her earliest memories seal hunting as a family. To Arnaquq-Baril seal hunting represents food, clothing, income, community and happy times.
Unfortunately, Arnaquq-Baril’s life has been dramatically transformed and each spring her community braces itself for the onslaught of distant angry colonial protestors who want to ban all seal hunting regardless of necessity. Angry Inuk chronicles the years from the spring of 2008 until 2014, a crucial time when animal rights activists and foreign governments determined the fate of all Inuit peoples.
Inuit seal hunters include the Indigenous peoples of Russia, Greenland, Alaska, and the Canadian north. These peoples share language, culture and an environmentally sound way of life that is dependent on sealing for food, clothing, and income.
However, since the 1960s, the continuous drop in seal product sales has reached life-threatening proportions. The steady decline is attributable to one thing and one thing only: Propaganda spread by animal rights activists.These lies misled the public and caused international governments to impose bans on the sale of seal products without consulting the very people their well-intentioned, but misinformed, decisions impacted.
Unlike Europeans, with a history of killing far in excess of need in the name of greed, Inuit have been ethically sustainable harvesters of fur bearing animals. Yet, Europeans have become expert at imposing their history on others as is the case with Inuit peoples who only harvest what they need and make use of every part of the animal.
Seal skin protests grew from outrage over the vicious clubbing of white harp seal pups for their pelts. These seals are found in Labrador and along the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. This barbaric method of killing the pups is a practice unique to the area and it is carried out by hunters who are not Inuit. Inuit hunt on the water and kill their prey humanely with a single shot to the head.
But, throughout the 1970s, anti-sealing protestors gained momentum using misinformation. Angry Inuk includes a 1978 interview by CBC host Barbara Frum with Green Peace activist Paul Watson, during which Watson openly admits the seal hunt turns a substantial profit for organizations like Green Peace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Animal Protection Institute (API) and Fund for Animals (AF).
Watson goes on to say using cute white harp seal pups as a cause was easy money. Most people were unaware that over 1,000 animals were on the endangered species list but that not a single species of seal was among them.
Google a picture of a white seal pup and you will immediately see how cute and cuddly they are. Their eyes naturally tear up to keep them from freezing which adds a vulnerable look that money just can’t buy. It’s clear outsiders are working from a place of emotion and guilt while the Inuit are using rational thought.
In 1983 all hell broke loose for Inuit who depend on sealing for their livelihood. Stars like Bridgette Bardot and Pamela Anderson became the vocal opponents to the Canadian seal hunt taking place along the St. Lawrence and in Labrador. Much later Ellen DeGeneres would join the fray.
That year, Green Peace and Bardot were vocal enough to get the European Union (EU) to not only ban white coat harp seal pup fur sales but the sale of all seal furs, causing the market to crash and imposing a crushing financial depression on all Inuit communities.
Fur sales dropped from 30,000 to 1,000 per year. Inuit could no longer live on the land year-round. They were forced to move from traditional grounds into towns. This forced economic migration based on the ignorance of others caused irreparable damage to these remote communities.
The residential school experience, government forced relocation, and other destructive government policies had negatively impacted these Northern communities and increased suicide rates, but this single life altering event caused a distinct spike in suicide rates as hope for a better future vanished.
Government interference was displaced by social activist corporations like Green Peace, PETA, IFAW, API, FA, and the Humane Society with profit driven motives to ban the sale of all seal fur, not just white coat harp seal pups.
In 2008, the EU was being pressured to replace the 1983 ban on seal furs with an all-out ban on all seal products including meat, oil and skins. By 2009, the EU was plunged into a huge anti-sealing campaign.
Funded by animal rights corporations, massive amounts of money, persuasion, and social media were used to undermine the Inuit’s ethically and environmentally sound seal hunt and its offshoot products. These corporations consciously chose to ignore the fact that Inuit are a part of the commercial market and need the money from seal product sales to simply survive.
Animal rights activists continued to use emotion rather than fact to influence EU officials. However, anti-sealers were quick to point out the ban would include an exemption for Inuit peoples. The exemption, for subsistence only, did not allow for fur sales needed to remain active in the international market and to provide enough money to cover expenses enabling Inuit to continue to hunt.
On May 5, 2009 the EU Parliament passed the ban on all seal products by a vote of 550 in favour to 49 against. There was no way for the Inuit to prevent the ban because not a single Inuit was included in the discussions.
According to Inuit representatives present in Europe at the time of the vote, the voters were well intentioned, but ill-informed based on misinformation from protestors with a vested interest. Once again, colonizers imposed sanctions on Indigenous peoples without consulting them or including them in the dialogue.
As Angry Inuk shows, the story could have ended there. Instead the journey continued as Inuit from northern Canada began exploring their legal options.
So, what has the European ban on seal products meant in financial terms? In 2009, sales of seal fur were 60,000 skins per year at an average price of $100 per skin. In 2010, sales plummeted to less than 30,000 skins at an average price of $10 per skin. No corporation would stand for that economic impact, yet Inuit peoples were expected to take it on the chin.
This had a direct impact on Inuit communities in the form of less meat for families who experience extreme food insecurity. Seven in ten Inuit children go to school hungry.
This area has the highest poverty and unemployment rates in all of North America, as well as the highest cost of living. To put things into perspective, a jar of cheese whiz costs $19; a cabbage costs $28; and 12 cans of ginger ale cost $82.
At these prices, hunting is the best way to feed a family and seal skins remain the best source of income. Income from seal hunting means these communities are able to retain and enforce some semblance of self-determination.
Ironically, PETA and Green Peace actively attacked the caretakers of the Northern climates, and literally gave oil and gas companies a free pass to develop and destroy this incredibly beautiful area. In fact, animal rights corporate non-profits were willing to sacrifice Inuit hunters on the altar of perceived environmental justice, while giving major extraction companies free reign over the region.
Fast forward to 2011, when Inuit representatives made multiple attempts to contact PETA, Green Peace and even the Humane Society to engage in a respectful dialogue about the ethical harvesting of seal skins. What corporate non-profits fail to tell the public is that seals have never been on the endangered animals list, ever.
In 1978 there were two million seals, and today there are over 8 million. Animal rights activists also purposely avoided discussions around the fact that seal fur is a great alternative to artificial furs made from oil, especially when you consider the fact that synthetic fur is not renewable or recyclable.
On March 13, 2013 the IFAW planned to hold an anti-sealing protest to mark the International Day of Action Against Seal Hunting. The Inuit communities sent representatives to the corner of Dundas and Yonge streets in Toronto to engage in a peaceful counter-protest and hopefully finally dialogue with Sheryl Fink of IFAW. But, once the IFAW got wind of the counter protest, the animal rights activists were a no show.
There was no discussion with the protesters, but media releases internationally likened seal hunters to poachers of ivory and endangered animals taken for horns, tusks and other coveted body parts. Instead, seal skins, and meat, should be equated with food security that also provides much needed commercial income.
By that time, Inuit representatives launched a lawsuit against the EU. However, once again, the anti-seal campaign worked its magic and the European court found in favour of the ban. The only reasons cited was on moral grounds because seal hunting offends Europeans and somehow banning seal fur and products from international markets helps the Inuit who initiated the law suit.
A mere 32,000 Inuit were pitted against 1 billion people who decided it was in the best interest of Inuit peoples to leave them starving and without a significant source of income in an increasingly monetized world.
We have a decidedly David and Goliath situation here, with the Inuit quietly expressing their anger and dismay to a growing group of misinformed, loud, angry, social media savvy protestors.
Today, the popular Eurocentric view equates seal products with murder in the name of frivolity. Contrarily, Inuit see seal hunting as a culturally appropriate way to ethically and sustainably feed everyone within their community, while providing skins to create environmentally appropriate clothing and income to purchase much needed fuel so they can continue to hunt.
It’s incomprehensible that seal protestors never mention the Inuit. It is inconceivable that these protestors actively avoid engaging in conversation with Inuit hunters and clothing designers. Not a single protestor has ever visited the communities they are decimating. Seal products are the livelihood of the Inuit. Yet, protestors have managed to shut down the seal product trade simply because it brings them easy money.
In 2014, Ellen DeGeneres voiced her opposition to seal hunting by donating 1.5 million dollars to the American Humane Society. In retaliation the Inuit started the #sealfie campaign to bring attention to their plight. Unfortunately, the campaign opened a floodgate of hateful massages that caused great pain and suffering.
Clearly a settler public was responding inappropriately to a rational life and death situation without engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the Inuit peoples suffering irreparable personal, cultural, and economic damage.
The moral superiority of animal activists protects them from having to consider the human lives they are destroying. Corporate animal rights groups have created a money-making narrative that would be put in peril if they ever engaged in a dialogue with those they are harming. This is an indefensible stance.
These organizations, run by morally vacant individuals, preach misinformation and lies to a congregation that has chosen to remain ignorant and spews vitriol towards protectors of the north.
It’s time for Canadians to learn the truth about seal hunting. It’s time for Canadians to speak up against the wrongs being imposed on Inuit communities, who want no more than to feed their children and their communities and keep their environmentally sustainable way of life.
Winner of 10 national and international film awards, Angry Inuk is a National Film Board co-production. To arrange a screening in your work place, community centre or living room, please email: [email protected]
Image: Angry Inuk
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