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Seal is on the menu
February 3, 2010 2:22 PM   Subscribe

As the G7 finance ministers meet in northern Canada this week, a statement will be made about a matter dear to the hearts, and stomachs, of many northerners: seal. The ministers will be served seal meat, while sitting on seal-skin chairs and be given seal-fur gloves and vests as gifts, all to raise awareness of the importance of the seal hunt to the North -- even as Inuit groups in Canada and Greenland are suing in a European court to try to overturn the EU's ban on importing seal products. CBC's FAQ on the Canadian Seal Hunt.

This previous post notes that the EU ban had been primarily aimed at the East Coast commercial seal hunt, rather than the Inuit seal hunts, and that Nunavut had been trying to keep some distance, but it seems that is no longer so.
posted by jb (49 comments total)

 
I don't really care one way or the other about seal. But as important as the tradition of the seal hunt is northern Canadian indigenous groups, the tradition of exporting them across an ocean to another continent is less important, right?
posted by aswego at 2:29 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


“It is doubtful that a wild seal living in the Arctic would envy the life prospects of a factory-raised chicken,” she wrote.

She's got us there.
posted by hackly_fracture at 2:30 PM on February 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


But will any of them eat the raw, warm heart cut fresh from a seal? I think not.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


But as important as the tradition of the seal hunt is northern Canadian indigenous groups, the tradition of exporting them across an ocean to another continent is less important, right?

The precedent is pretty well-accepted now with the courts allowing native groups to fish commercially that native people are allowed to evolve their relationship with the land and make a living from it in the modern world.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2010


She's got us there.

It's all the same to PETA. They're against all meat and dairy consumption.
posted by zarq at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2010



At the risk of sounding unpopular, I gotta say... fuck this seal hunting shit. It should be banned for non Natives.
Unless a person is doing it for survival reasons it's just exploitation and poaching.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2010


But will any of them eat the raw, warm heart cut fresh from a seal? I think not.

I've hunted before. Still, I could have done without that photo.

Anyway, she seems bound and determined to be sensationalistic, even if Mr. Hickes would prefer otherwise.
posted by zarq at 2:49 PM on February 3, 2010


this reads like someone is trying to seal the deal.
posted by the aloha at 2:50 PM on February 3, 2010


Liquidwolf, I think the problem is:


At the risk of sounding unpopular, I gotta say... fuck this seal huntingcommercial farming shit. It should be banned for non Natives.
Unless a person is doing it for survival reasons it's just exploitation and poaching.


I'm not a huge fan of seal hunting. But that stems from my trouble with meat eating, not with it sui generis.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:53 PM on February 3, 2010


Lemurrhea ,
Yeah i agree.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2010


In the last 10 years Canada has faced the following problems: we have has been drawn into foreign wars by an entangling alliance, our border with the United States has become militarized for the first time in decades, we are the only Western country to have a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, our environmental policies and disregard for the Kyoto accord (which we did in fact in sign) has made us a rogue nation, our biggest trading partner has gone into a huge recesssion and taken our economy down by a corresponding percentage, we seem to be hosting an olympics games which very few people actually want, the North West passage is now open, and we have a governnment which was elected by about 40% of the population making 100% of the political appointments.

The federal government and most provinces are running deficits...

With all of these potential problems we choose to beat our chest and draw the line when pressure groups from other countries focus on shutting down the seal hunt? I'll be honest, I don't know any seal hunters and I've never even seen a seal pelt before - I have no idea who the market is for seal products. Can anybody fill me in? The emphasis on this issue strikes me as completely insane.
posted by Deep Dish at 2:57 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The precedent is pretty well-accepted now with the courts allowing native groups to fish commercially that native people are allowed to evolve their relationship with the land and make a living from it in the modern world.

Yeah, I get this. After all, had Europeans not come and taken their land and treated them seven kinds of horrible they theoretically could have "evolved" into a seal-exporting culture on their own by now. At the same time, nobody would be carving out a special hunting-tolerance niche for them if they weren't victimized in the first place. This just seems like a noble attempt to preserve a cultural tradition by carving out an exception, only to have that exception exploited for the largest possible profit, and then hoping it all balances out in the end. Kind of like Indian Casinos. I don't blame a group for going to such ends to preserve what it values, but maybe other societies shouldn't be cynically enabling.
posted by aswego at 3:06 PM on February 3, 2010


IMO from a moral perspective small scale sustainable farming > hunting > factory farming. Unless you are going to argue against killing animals in principle, just as well that we take animals who lived a free natural life rather than a crappy factory farm one.

If seals weren't so cute and easy to kill this would not be an issue.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:14 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


we are the only Western country to have a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay,

That's not accurate. At various times in the last 7 years, there have been French, British, Danish, Belgian, German, Spanish, Swedish and US nationals housed there, as well as a high-profile Australian: David Hicks.

Full list
posted by zarq at 3:18 PM on February 3, 2010


The precedent is pretty well-accepted now with the courts allowing native groups to fish commercially that native people are allowed to evolve their relationship with the land and make a living from it in the modern world.

...except, that's not what happens. Where does the traditional lifestyle end and the modern world begin? Our native peoples in Canada, if they are going to have a future, need to shed the ambiguity of this and step into the modern world. We can't prop an entire industry on

This seal hunt isn't about tradition. It's about money. The traditional ways don't exist in the way they used to, and this needs to be accepted. Until this happens, a lingering sense of victimhood and entitlement will remain - an attitude that is fucking deadly as far as community/societal capacity is concerned. So, let's call a spade a spade. Everyone will be better off for it.

The new world is about management of resources and protection of species and habitats. The traditional ways of life for First Nations are largely gone, but that matters not one whit if habitats and species are maintained. Whatever traditional ways remain will remain if the resource is properly managed for all users.

These arguments are filled with moral relativism, and it does nobody any amount of good. Cute seals get a lot of attention - the issue seems to be about cruelty, but if that's the case then, as has been mentioned, why don't other industries receive a similar amount of attention?

It should be about resource management, same as anything else.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:23 PM on February 3, 2010


Deep Dish: I'll be honest, I don't know any seal hunters and I've never even seen a seal pelt before - I have no idea who the market is for seal products. Can anybody fill me in? The emphasis on this issue strikes me as completely insane.

Seal Pelts: Who Buys Them And How Are They Used? Their data seems reasonable, but of course they're not exactly an unbiased source of information.
posted by zarq at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2010


What does Heidi have to say about all this?
posted by chillmost at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2010


sorry, above first paragraph should read: We can't prop an entire industry on nostalgia.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2010


Sweet, so activist Canadians have finally figured out how to make an attempt on the lives fo the G7 ministers. Just poison them with mercury! So simple.
posted by mullingitover at 3:25 PM on February 3, 2010


> That's not accurate. At various times in the last 7 years, there have been French, British, Danish, Belgian, German, Spanish, Swedish and US nationals housed there, as well as a high-profile Australian: David Hicks.

He neglected to include the "still", as in: "the only Western country to STILL have a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay."
posted by Decimask at 3:38 PM on February 3, 2010


Bridget Bardot is gonna be pissed.
posted by ovvl at 3:40 PM on February 3, 2010


He neglected to include the "still", as in: "the only Western country to STILL have a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay."

Ah. OK.
posted by zarq at 3:45 PM on February 3, 2010


Also, here's my question:
Are there enough seats in Atlantic Canada that could be swayed by this for the Conservatives to win an majority in an election?
posted by Decimask at 3:48 PM on February 3, 2010


The seal hunt is such a tedious non-issue. If it's sustainable - all signs point to yes - then what is wrong with it? We kill animals all the time to eat them, mostly in much more horrific ways. This is a basic fact about eating meat: something was killed so you could eat. Hunting is probably the most ethical way of doing this, as the animal is allowed to live naturally until it is harvested.

But seals are cuuuuute, so everyone freaks out about this and ignores the much more horrifying industrial livestock farming practices that are rampant in North America. Whenever someone acts outraged about the seal hunt, I make sure to ask them if they are a vegan before I discuss it with them.
posted by mek at 3:51 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


they theoretically could have "evolved" into a seal-exporting culture on their own by now.

I don't even know what to say to this.
posted by kaspen at 4:00 PM on February 3, 2010


But seals are cuuuuute, so everyone freaks out about this and ignores the much more horrifying industrial livestock farming practices that are rampant in North America.

So true. Few protest the plight of the lowly housefly. Nobody appears inspired to speak up against the slaughter of the cockroach.

Bono should start a concert or something.
posted by metagnathous at 4:31 PM on February 3, 2010


First Nations hunting and fishing rights do not proceed from the desire of White McColony to staff an antique theme park with the people who lived there before he did. They stem from the fact that the First Nations were there before Whitey and have a prior claim to sovereignty. If they decide to shoot seals with lasers of stab with with that cool pneumatic spear from Predator 2 while listening to techno, you don't really have a say in the matter beyond environmental concerns. You might also critique their choice of techno on aesthetic grounds.
posted by mobunited at 6:07 PM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have to keep reminding myself that my city ward has almost twice the population of Nunavut. About the same number of people speak Korean in my city than speak Inuktitut in the whole world.

So we might be better serving Canadian values by serving bulgogi with kimchi on the side.
posted by scruss at 6:18 PM on February 3, 2010


they theoretically could have "evolved" into a seal-exporting culture on their own by now.

I don't even know what to say to this.


Well, "evolve" was someone else's word, not mine (hence the quotes). And I guess it's true those indigenous persons who are trying to export seal now did wind up a seal-exporting culture within Canada-as-a-whole. But I obviously meant that they theoretically could have wound up their own country whose economy is largely dependent on seal exports. I don't really want to speculate as to how likely that is (it'd be awfully presumptuous), but that idea is the political basis for allowing societies within a larger nation exceptions to practices that are otherwise banned. It's alternate-reality-as-thought-experiment: some Inuit used to survive via seal hunting...if they were not invaded, seal hunting could have become a major industry capable of exports...therefore, in an effort to make them whole by reversing the effect of colonization et al., they should be allowed to export seal.
posted by aswego at 6:39 PM on February 3, 2010


I wonder if whaling will come up. A w k w a r d !

I'm also still trying to figure out why the PM is picking this fight now. I mean, the Olympics start in a matter of days, and this is an issue for only a tiny number of Canadians, relatively speaking. All I can think is that he's either looking to make big gains in Eastern Canada, or trying to pull the rug out from under Premier Danny Williams' feet.
posted by Decimask at 7:21 PM on February 3, 2010


So we might be better serving Canadian values by serving bulgogi with kimchi on the side.

Mmm, bulgogi seal.

but that idea is the political basis for allowing societies within a larger nation exceptions to practices that are otherwise banned.

I don't understand this line of reasoning at all. Why would seal hunting be banned? Why do natives figure so prominently for you? Any Canadian can obtain a sealing license with the proper training. The herd is stable at a population of >5mil, and has been so for decades. Even if we were all white, we would still be hunting seals, because there's money in it. Just as Canadians nationwide hunt game. The Inuit have no monopoly on sealing, they've just being doing it longest.
posted by mek at 7:49 PM on February 3, 2010


I'm also still trying to figure out why the PM is picking this fight now.

I think it is because he likes being a big asshole.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:56 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"but that idea is the political basis for allowing societies within a larger nation exceptions to practices that are otherwise banned."

I don't understand this line of reasoning at all. Why would seal hunting be banned? Why do natives figure so prominently for you?


Uh, they don't figure prominently for me. As I mentioned upthread, I don't really care about seal. And as I'll mention now, I'm for erring on the side of 1.) letting the persecuted have their way, and 2.) legitimizing a trade that is happening anyway. I was merely distinguishing two arguments. "Tradition" as the justification for letting a centuries(if not millennia)-old practice continue makes some sense. The tradition argument just doesn't make sense for seal export. What does make sense for seal export is a restitution-type claim, though it comes with its own complications.
posted by aswego at 8:09 PM on February 3, 2010


He neglected to include the "still", as in: "the only Western country to STILL have a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay."

You got it...
posted by Deep Dish at 8:23 PM on February 3, 2010


The tradition argument just doesn't make sense for seal export. What does make sense for seal export is a restitution-type claim, though it comes with its own complications.

Why are either of these arguments necessary? Why does exportation of seal products have to be justified? What distinguishes them from any other export? It is my understanding an export is justified if someone wants to buy it.
posted by mek at 9:05 PM on February 3, 2010


I'm also still trying to figure out why the PM is picking this fight now.

Because there is continued EU discussion about banning Canadian fur products, and what better time to bring it up than at a G7 meeting?

There aren't a lot of people in Canada's Arctic - about 50,000. There isn't a lot of industry, and there aren't even any roads. There are no supermarkets, and there is no Gap. People need to hunt, people need to earn income, and people also need to maintain some sort of connection to their traditional culture, which includes their traditional diet.

Sealskin parkas are way more ethical than leather jackets or Big Macs.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 PM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


jimmythefish: This seal hunt isn't about tradition. It's about money.

What do you base this view on? It seems to be at odds with info, eg, here and here.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:16 PM on February 3, 2010


Where does the traditional lifestyle end and the modern world begin?

Isn't that up to them?

Our native peoples in Canada, if they are going to have a future, need to shed the ambiguity of this and step into the modern world.

This presupposes that you have an understanding of what it means to "step into the modern world" and that they do not. Typical western attitude. Typically despicable.

We can't prop an entire industry on nostalgia

If it makes money, it isn't being propped. Any other industry would get government cooperation in addressing foreign anti-trade laws, why not theirs? Wouldn't it be modern to give Inuit business the same support that any other Canadian business might expect?
posted by Chuckles at 10:02 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our native peoples in Canada, if they are going to have a future, need to shed the ambiguity of this and step into the modern world.

Nice use of the possessive. Second, stepping into the modern world means diabetes, alcoholism, suicide, etc. Look it up.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This presupposes that you have an understanding of what it means to "step into the modern world" and that they do not. Typical western attitude. Typically despicable.

Oh, because it's working so well right now. Yeah, I do have a little experience in the matter, thank you very much.

I worked in the Tsartlip band office on Vancouver Island one summer a while back, in a trailer that also served as the lands manager's office. Over the summer I got a pretty good history lesson. The short version:

The band used to be a matriarchal society, much like other coastal First Nations. They lived communally in long houses, hunted and fished together and made decisions together.

The white man comes along, and they get separated into their own houses, made a man the chief, and gave them illness, refined food, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, the internal combustion engine, etc.

And, guess what. They're FUCKED. They spend all day bickering about property lines, carting their fetal alcohol-inflicted kids around, they owe the Fed ~$1 million bucks, and their school and nurse's station have been shut down because of it.

Most of them spend the rest of the time with a completely hopeless feeling that they've been screwed beyond belief. It's justified, because they have. They long for the days when the land was theirs...etc but nobody was even alive when it was and they have no idea how to live traditionally even if they could. Those days are long past. When I say 'move into the modern world' I mean exactly that - the handouts and sense of entitlement and the victimhood must stop because their old way of life is never coming back.

The seal hunt isn't a traditional way of life when it gets moved to a commercial base. This is what I mean when I say you can't justify the seal hunt on traditional grounds - this is just prolonging this ideology. It needs to be seen as simply a way of life like any other in the north - neither native or traditional. Native culture IS the north, and the north is native. The sooner we see it not as some throwback but as a real industry with real merit, the better it is for moving on.

Look at New Zealand, by contrast. Their Maori are much better integrated into society. I'm not talking about taking away traditional rights or culture - I'm talking about sorting what is practical vs. what isn't, and what gains respect from white culture. As soon as we see our aboriginal people as something more than a boat anchor, the better it will be for them. Accepting that there is nothing that we can do to change how much we fucked them is one first step. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. It's never gonna happen.

I'm reminded of the Makah story of whaling. It's a very good example of ideal vs. reality. They bagged a whale and they had no fucking clue what to do with it because their old ways have long been forgotten. There's a need to recognise this. There's a need to move beyond pining for the old days and making something new and strong.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:55 PM on February 3, 2010


Look at New Zealand, by contrast. Their Maori

You make a lot of good points, but you loose credibility by using the possessive like that.

How is the commercial hunt not traditional? First Nations in Canada have been engaging in the fur trade since contact, for 500 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 AM on February 4, 2010


But what are we going to do? Renege on our treaties?

Unemployment among Inuits in the North (where they form a great majority of the population) is a real problem. Besides mining, there really isn't much economic activity that can be done out there. It's just too far from anything else. Maybe that'll change when the Northwest passage becomes a regular shipping lane.

Meanwhile, Inuits don't have it as bad has the members of southern bands; there are many Inuits alive who actually lived the traditional way of life. I know someone who helped build infrastructure in the villages of the Northern coast of Quebec (pretty much the last places in the province to get running water and paved streets). They insisted he use as much Inuit labour as possible. The Inuits are, as we say in French, "wise": they know their situation is though, and they're trying to make the best of it.

Another thing the Inuits have going for them is that they're basically our claim to occupying our Northern land. This is pretty important, given the potential for sovereignty disputes.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:48 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


You make a lot of good points, but you loose credibility by using the possessive like that.

Argue about something substantial instead of acting as the junior thought police.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:31 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, guess what. They're FUCKED.

We all know that there are massive problems in native affairs from coast to coast in this country. Somewhat related, the governments involvement in the question is just as fucked (i.e. to some extent the government is using the Inuit seal hunt to make the Newfoundland seal hunt seem more palatable).

"Shed the ambiguity" though? Dude, modernity is dead. The rest of the world depends on leveraging ambiguities to gain political approval, to make money, and to justify their actions. There isn't anything wrong with ambiguity.

Ack, no more time to type...
posted by Chuckles at 5:01 AM on February 4, 2010


Argue about something substantial instead of acting as the junior thought police.

Oh, come on, Meatbomb. Part of the problem is that non-natives (typically white folks) behave as though natives are children or whatever.

Obviously, jimmythefish has more firsthand experience than I do, which makes him a lot more credible than me when talking about these issues.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:15 AM on February 4, 2010


jimmythefish has more firsthand experience than I do

with the Tsartlip. No reason's been given to justify applying the generalization [the Tsartlip] have no idea how to live traditionally to Inuit groups.

Aboriginal peoples are not culturally monolithic, etc.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:47 AM on February 4, 2010


No reason's been given to justify applying the generalization [the Tsartlip] have no idea how to live traditionally to Inuit groups

When did I say that? I'm perfectly aware there are Inuit groups living in traditional ways. This is great. It's also largely because they're sitting on land (or ice) that has long had little in the way of land (or ice) use conflict. This may change as our oil exploration moves north.

I have a problem with referring to the seal hunt as a 'traditional' hunt when it's really a commercial enterprise. As soon as we label something 'traditional' the optics become really skewed. Why do we need to protect it on that basis? We're defending it on an outmoded principle, by definition. Selling overseas is fundamentally not traditional. So why do it? They're certainly not winning over the politically correct crowd by clubbing seals. But, you don't need to - crazy ain't buying anyways. Ultimately, the problem is always the negative reflection on federal politicians. They look after their own skin and spare no expense doing it. It's easier to brand something as traditional to make it appear more correct in the eyes of the public. The problem is, this also has the negative implication that it's not really legitimate, or profitable.

I'll say it again - manage the users to manage the resource. If that happens, the traditional ways are there to flourish without our further intervention. Meanwhile, we have a real industry which employs native people.

As for levereging ambiguities for political approval - I mean, come on. Politics have failed native peoples in North America since the first European landed. Politics is what kills them now - their culture of consensus-based decisionmaking doesn't come close to working in today's litigious, complex political landscape.

First Nations get bulldozed or stymied time and time again based on completely different sets of values and goals. The solution is almost always to pay them off, thus perpetuating the negative culture of dependence. What little power the treaties have doesn't come close to providing them with a strong legal footing for perpetuating a culture which works in this environment. I've been involved with traditional use studies, and it's a heartbreaking exercise. Proving traditional use is incredibly laborious and they don't have a lot of momentum on their side when attempting to fight the progress of resource extraction and urban development.

When the chips are down, they get bought and sold like the land they stand on. Resource companies pay band members hundreds of dollars an hour when 'consulting' with them. This happens all over Fort McMurray (Wood Buffalo) are in northern Alberta. Any treaty in place flies out the window when the dollars start flowing, and the companies know this. The burden of rejection gets placed on the First Nations bands, but if they're getting free doughnuts at meetings and $200/hr to have a chat (and a whole lot more other incentives) it's hard to say no. Meanwhile, the Fed does almost nothing as long as the companies are engaging them in some ways. The treaties need to be strengthened dramatically so they don't get walked all over.

Anyways...I could go on.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:27 AM on February 4, 2010


I'm going to make a controversial statement - the Newfoundland seal hunt is also a traditional hunt and should also be preserved. Sealers have been working offshore Newfoundland since the 1700s and it was an important source of income since the 1800 (I'm getting all this from Wikipedia). I assume, given the amount of shipping done in the province at this time (and before), that most of this meat/skin was shipped to other countries, say Europe. This sounds like a pretty traditional (and traditionally commercial) thing to do. (I'll also add on preview that trading is a traditional activity so restricting 'traditional' to mean only immediate consumption by the hunters is probably short sighted).

I read a bunch of old store records from a town on the Avalon Pennisula for a research project as an undergrad and they would mention when the men went off to seal, and when they returned and started fishing. It seemed to be part of the yearly resource cycle that these communities relied on.

This hunt can be compared to the annual turr hunt which is an accepted part of Newfoundland tradition. When Newfoundland joined Canada, they got an exemption to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so that they could continue this hunt (they did not get an exemption to continue egging seabirds) as a part of their heritage.

Anyway, my point is that if the seal or turr population is sustainable with this level of hunting (and from every source they seem to be doing more than fine (fingers crossed about climate change though)), I think the hunts should be allowed to continue. And, if the amount the hunters take is sustainable at a very high level, they should be allowed to sell the meat and/or skins.

But as was said several times above, seals are so cuuuuute (unlike deer?). I think they look like giant caterpillars but I may be alone in that.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree with hydrobatidae -- white people have traditions, too. And most commercial activity is as much about survival (feeding yourself and your family) as subsistence production, it's just exchanged for money with which one buys food. People who get up and go to a factory, people who go and type numbers into a database -- they are doing it for survival, too. (Unless they are independently wealthy. Which isn't exactly common).

The Newfoundland seal hunt is dominated by white anglo hunters, but they are doing it to survive in a place where unemployment is high. They've already lost the cod fishing, because that was unsustainable and collapsed -- sustainable seal hunting is something that could support them long term. And I think people should have a right to do something which supports them without having other people trying to undermine their industry with falsehoods about its practice -- the EU ban wasn't based on the truths about the hunt. I have no problem arguing for bans against the import of products from endangered species, or for arguing against industries which are causing serious environmental damage. But that isn't the case with the seal hunt, either in the North or in the East.

Of course, we could just put all of the seal hunters out of business, and they can move to the Alberta Tar Sands for work -- and that will be just WONDERFUL for the world's environment. /sarcasm
posted by jb at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


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