Seal hunting and the importance of country foods
The hashtag #Sealfie, a play on the words selfie and seal, became popular in 2014 as a response to the continued opposition towards seal hunting in so-called Canada’s north. Trending alongside the phrase “eat seal, wear seal,” both these captions started to give southern audiences a glimpse into the realities of the seal skin trade that makes up a significant amount of the Inuit global economy.
The opposition to the commercial sale of seal skin began with images of seal clubbing, a part of seal hunting that has been villainized and quickly became the international image representing seal skin. This reduced the commercial sale of seal skin to an inhumane and immoral act, which had serious impacts on the livelihoods of Inuit. This also led to the ban on seal products by the European Union in 2009.
Even though there are exceptions made for Inuit, the exceptions do not prevent the decrease in value of seal products as a whole. The ban negatively impacted the value of seal products created by Inuit. This ban clearly demonstrates the views of colonial officials, as well as the general southern non-Indigenous population, on Indigenous subsistence hunting as a whole.
The narrative behind the opposition to seal hunting, as well as Indigenous subsistence hunting as a whole, fails to understand that the commercial sale of seal skin and other country foods plays an integral role in the livelihoods of Inuit and other Indigenous nations across Turtle Island.
The idea of clubbing seals for only the commercial sale of fur does not apply to Inuit. The selling of seal skin is only one aspect of the country food trade market. The sale of a seal skin also involves the consumption or sale of every part of the seal, which significantly contributes to the food systems and security of Inuit.
Inuit have the highest average food insecure rates within so-called Canada, which makes access to country foods all the more important. The movement away from country foods to store bought foods from the south has not been entirely beneficial for Inuit either.
More often than not, store bought foods have not proven to significantly improve the health of Inuit, and in several cases, has done the opposite. Factors such as high costs of foods, low-quality produce, high poverty and unemployment rates, and the ineffectiveness of government food subsidiaries, have all contributed to the food insecurity among Inuit. All of these factors combined have also placed Inuit women more at risk of food insecurity.
In contrast, country foods have proven to be a healthier option for Inuit as they are significantly higher in nutrients and are often fresh and organic.
Unfortunately, access to country foods has been severely impacted as well. This is due to the rising costs of hunting supplies and the inability to have time off work or proper support for hunting trips. These factors also impact the sale and prices of country foods, which in turn makes them less accessible to Inuit.
Although some may say these narratives of the immorality of subsistence hunting with commercial aspects have blown over in the years since, Indigenous and Inuit creators on social media outlets today would likely disagree. The dehumanizing backlash from non-Indigenous peoples can still be seen throughout social media today as Inuit continue to give glimpses into the realities of living in the arctic. This backlash not only points to the needs for education into the nuances of subsistence and commercial hunting, but to the importance of Indigeneous-led resistance movements such as #Sealfies.