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The ongoing ethical debate around seal-hunting has resurfaced in the form of a 21st century style twitter-off.  The battle ensued after talk show host, Ellen Degeneres, donated 1.5 million “selfie” generated dollars to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) which actively opposes seal hunting.

This contribution was not an oversight on Degeneres’ part as her website explicitly states seal hunting is, “one of the most atrocious and inhumane acts against animals allowed by any government”.

Her symbolic and overt stance against seal-hunting has attracted widespread criticism from Inuit communities across Canada whose livelihood, spirituality and tradition rests on the  longstanding practice.  The response from Inuit and Inuit supporters has gone viral with the introduction of #sealfies, pictures featuring Inuit and others with seal meat or seal skin clothes.

The protest was initiated by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuk filmmaker from Iqaluit, Nunavut who recently helped produce the moving documentary “Arctic Defenders,” with the following tweet:

 

 

The tagline #sealfie vs. #selfie reflects the debate flawlessly. For, there is nothing selfish or inhumane about cultural and physical survival.  But, there is something very selfish about a wealthy individual raising money to publicly shame a historically destitute population on their cultural practices.

Before delving into the historical and cultural significance of seal hunting amongst Inuit, it is important to outline their diverse political, cultural and geographic realities to avoid generalization.

The term “Inuit” is employed on its own as it means, “The People”.  Inuit are diverse and stretch across the circumpolar Arctic, from Chukotka to Greenland in the U.S. (called Inuit Nunaat) and Northern Canada (called Inuit Nunangat).  Within Canada, they live in 53 different communities in the four main areas: The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northern Quebec and Labrador.   The estimates of how many Inuit there are range from 40 000- 55 000 and there are no reserves amongst Inuit as they form various communities.  All of these communities share Inuktitut as a common language which has evolved into different dialects in each large region.

In addition to their linguistic diversity, their historical oppression cannot be understated.  Similar to all Indigenous Peoples in Canada, Inuit were largely affected by colonial interventions, the residential school system and forced relocation efforts by the Canadian government which has continued to plague the communities.  Their suffering has manifested itself as mental health issues, intergenerational trauma, suicide, alcohol and substance abuse and many other emotional symptoms.

One cultural practice which has survived such insurmountable oppression is the practice of seal hunting.

Seal hunting amongst Indigenous peoples dates back to 4000 years ago and has largely remained the same in terms of its cultural and physical significance.  It was and still is a means of survival for Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples both in order to fight famine and promote spirituality.

Also, if anyone is concerned about the seals, it is Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples.   For, it was only when the Europeans colonized Inuit that the exploitation of seals began.  In the early 1800s, the settlers began mass extermination of seals, killing 546 000 in the early years of the 1840s.

Inuit have no interest in mass extermination but rather, mass conservation.  They also leave nothing left to be wasted.

In an article written by Inuit hunter Leonard Okkumaluk in 2009, “We eat the seal meat, brain (best part), raw or cooked and use the skin for clothing.  We use seal fat for qullig (oil lamp) and skin with rashes… Everything is used when we catch seals.”

 

 

Not only is every part of the seal used, but every part is respected and honoured.  Based on the animistic culture of Indigenous Peoples worldwide, animals are tied to the Indigenous belief system which worships the land and the food it has to offer.

Sandi Vincent, an Inuk woman, has spoken out against Ellen’s stance and said: “In Inuit culture, it is believed seals and other animals have souls and offer themselves to you. Humanely and with gratitude we accepted this gift…”

I can’t say for sure but I sincerely doubt Ellen has ever felt such a strong tie to seals.  I have always been a fan of Ellen, but for someone who has been extremely active in advocating for marginalized populations and for someone who poked fun at a “potentially racist” Oscar crowd, her stance is shockingly ignorant.

Of course to many the sight of dead seals isn’t pretty, but neither is starvation.  While people seldom see pictures of impoverished Inuit communities, the internet is littered with sights of them killing seals. The Council of Canadian Academies produced a recent report on food insecurity in Inuit communities, which reported that 35 per cent of Inuit households in Nunavut alone don’t have enough food and that 60 per cent of preschoolers have gone a day without eating, along with 76 per cent of preschoolers who skip meals.

And, of course there is something to be said about the unethical and wasteful nature of commercial seal hunting, just ask Inuit and Indigenous Peoples. But there is nothing unethical about a means of cultural and physical survival.

If there is anything positive to say about this current debate, it is the impressive show of activism, collectivism and support on behalf of and for Inuit issues.  Historically, it is seldom Indigenous issues are recognized in mainstream society and since the start of Idle No More in 2012, I hope this is only just the beginning.

Let’s see you dance your way out of this one, Ellen.

  • Robert

    Well stated. I am interested to see what happens when Ellen makes a similar stand against deer hunting in the US. Oh yeah, that is perfectly humane and necessary to feed the masses. riiiight…

    • Visi Dokoljena

      i dont hear Ellen chirping about inhumane practices on pigs.. cows on those mass production farms or the way they get slaughter either.. but then again.. seals r cute and cudely right,

      • Stephen Forbes

        Actually Ellen talks about that frequently, which is why she became Vegan in the first place.

      • WhiskyCopper

        Ellen is vegan for her love and respect for animals. She does not support factory farms.

      • MrsPerrin

        That childish argument of “seals being cute” is a bit played. Most animal activists aren’t about one cause. You don’t hear her “chirping” because you hear what you want to hear.

    • WhiskyCopper

      Taking on the rednecks in NA would intimidate the hell out of me! Geeze

      Hunting deer don’t feed the masses, it feeds families. And yes, it’s a little bit more humane than the farm factories and slaughterhouses.

  • “While people seldom see pictures of impoverished Inuit communities, the internet is littered with sights of them killing seals.”

    This this this this.

    Just like in Alaska. All our news is focused on the entitlements that some people have, and not the poverty that most struggle with.

  • Mori Nelson

    Maybe Ellen was more opposed to the mass commercial seal hunting, as that is where the dramatic declines seem to stem from and are only used for their fur alone which is sad. I think that should be banned, not seal hunting all together! I hope to see Ellen responds/clarify. :)

    • Andrew Collins

      More mis-informed people – there are no “dramatic decline”. The seal population has been exploding. There are now over 5 million off the east coast of Canada.

      • WhiskyCopper

        What are the natural predators for seals (other than humans)? Aren’t whales and sharks endangered now because of humans? Usually, when a specific population explodes fast government and organizations are suppose to reintroduce the predator to keep the food chain balance.

  • Visi Dokoljena

    I totally support the Inuit people.. these ppl who critize them are just plain ignorant..

    • MrsPerrin

      Animal advocates aren’t against the Inuit. Gov (and Inuit) try to make it appear that way. ARA are interested in ending the reckless commercial hunt performed by fishermen, whose violations continue without penalty.

  • Shlee Rose Tree

    I hope you know we give back to our mother earth, and appreciate everything that we receive from our planet. I’m sure you don’t give back nor thank the earth for the beef that’s on your plate..do you wear and use everything you can and yes guts and all, so that cow doesn’t go to waste? these people live good wholesome lives, something you average consumers know nothing about.

    • WhiskyCopper

      Farm factories—as disgusting and heartless as they are—do use most of the animal, if not all. Hot dogs, gelatin, etc. I prefer not to eat animals because I cherish animals and live in the 21st century in NA. Our land is rich (although being ruined by corporations such as Monsanto for greed) for all the food sources we need to survive.

      Right now, there is a rise in spirituality but, a decline in religions. As people learn about love and energy, there will be a decline in animal killing and animal abuse, and also more respect to animals when using them.

  • WhiskyCopper

    Oh come on! Can we all just celebrate the fact that because of Ellen—yes a celebrity, part of the elite—there has been $3 million donated to a children’s hospital and the a Humane Society!? Don’t turn this into a war on Inuit people! It’s great that [true] Inuits and aboriginals [may] practice traditional, ethical, humane animal killing, but please remember that everyone on this planet has their own values that they care enough about to speak up for (if they have confidence). Animals and children is Ellen’s. You should be praising her for being a leader, and doing something about her values—not judging her!

    Animals and children is what she feels compassion for. There is nothing wrong with that! Stop whining and trying to tear people down due to your own internalized anger and envy.

  • Lynda Parsons-Empey

    to everything there is a season……..we here on the east coast look forward to seal hunting season and the appreciation of a wonderful feast…we are not Inuit/First Nation or indigenous but we have eaten seal for at least the 500 plus years we have been here…………seals were never ever in our small bays and coves yet now the population explosion and the limits and restrictions on hunting them they are everywhere……our cod stocks have depleted and this puts many species at risk as well as the seal………for they will not be able to sustain this population too much longer………by a well organised and regulated cull people are fed………and also the furs provide income clothing and a way to provide for their families………….of course we are not going to slaughter every seal…….and of course slaughter is used so easily by those opposed as right away it implies savagery…………far from the truth………I challenge Ellen to stand up to all those trophy hunters in her country who hunt only to hunt……….not for food not for skins/furs not for income just to kill……this seal hunt is not cruel and much more humane than any commercial meat product found I your supermarkets!!

  • Jusi York

    this is for ELLEN and ALL THE WHITE PEOPLE who live in the southern major cities and in the governments who think we are cruel. we aren’t cruel. YOU WHITE PEOPLE who live in the southern major cities and who are in office of the governments are the TRUE CRUEL PEOPLE of the world. you destroy cultures and traditions for your own profit. us, WE TAKE ONLY WHAT WE NEED AND USE EVERY SINGLE PART OF WHAT WE CATCH. we waste nothing and we provide for families and communities. not like you people who keep your farm animals FENCED UP AND IN COOPS. not to mention all the chemicals you add to your farm animals. our animals eat off the land which is chemical-free and healthy to eat. your farm animals gives people diabetes and make them fat and become sick from all the chemicals you add to your farm animals. and you call us a cruel people?? you must be a special kind of DUMBASS eh.

    • WhiskyCopper

      No wild sea animals are healthy to eat anymore due to the environmental crisis and world pollution.

    • MrsPerrin

      Wow, racist much, Jusi? That’s what you’re being told. Truth is people hate the reckless, unmonitored commercial seal hunt performed by fishermen. They know the difference. You shouldn’t try to make it appear that both hunting is the same.

  • WhiskyCopper

    Hasn’t anyone see documentaries like Earthlings, Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc., Crazy Sexy Cancer, Vegucated, Food Matters, The Cove?

  • Morey

    It seems to be ok to kill fish just for their eggs, African lions, tigers and many other animals just of a wall trophy, cow hides for clothes, alligater purses and shoes and on and on. Oh right, this is for the rich. Sorry.

    • MrsPerrin

      ??

  • MrsPerrin

    Indigenous should be against fishermen’s commercial slaughter and wasting of meat at that commercial seal hunt. Wasteful. International trade bans don’t apply to Inuit. Irresponsible of you to try to appear that both hunts are the same. “Sealfies” against Ellen are pointless because she’s against fishermen’s commercial hunt.