February 25, 2017

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ANGRY INUK: WHY IS THE SEAL SKIN BAN WRONG?

ANGRY INUK: WHY IS THE SEAL SKIN BAN WRONG?

Film still of Angry Inuk | Image source: Qajaaq Ellsworth

Angry Inuk contains important Indigenous messages the world needs to hear. Directed by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Inuit), the documentary seeks to inform audiences how animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Humane Society International, are negatively impacting Inuit people’s livelihood with their anti-seal campaigns. Inuit communities were ignored by animal activist groups who were instrumental in imposing the seal skin bans in Europe, southern Canada and America. The documentary follows hunters, craftspeople and families from Kimmirut, Nunavut while interweaving beautiful shots of vast Arctic landscapes, offering viewers an in depth look into the culture, lives and struggles of the Inuit people after the ban. “A year after the ban the community faced widespread hunger and poverty, and within a year suicide rates skyrocketed,” said Arnaquq-Baril in the film. “They’ve been amongst the worst in the world ever since.”

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril met up with Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine during the Hot Docs Film Festival to talk about Angry Inuk.

MM: What were the biggest challenges in the production of Angry Inuk?

AAB: I didn’t find it easy to get the official organizations that campaign against sealing to do interviews with me. I was even willing to interview them by Skype, but there was always a reason for it to not really work out. That was frustrating because these people and these organizations have affected Inuit for so long and yet they couldn’t even be bothered to talk to me.

The other frustrating part was taking this discussion to social media because it was so apparent how well these animal activists groups have done their job. They really put this information out there and people really have a very hard time accepting that they could be wrong and misunderstanding things. People have a really hard time when they find out that Inuit are a part of the commercial seal skin market. People tend to think of us as only traditional and that we eat the meat and share it within our communities – we totally do that, but we also sell seal skins. There are thousands of communities that sell seal skins. So in getting people to understand that is very difficult. No matter how clearly you say it, no matter how many statistics you show – people just don’t want to accept that they’ve been hurting us for a really long time.

Film still of Angry Inuk
Film still of Angry Inuk | Image source: National Film Board

MM: If you had one thing to say to animal rights activists, what would you say?

AAB: Actually I’m going to have a one on one meeting with Greenpeace Canada later this week. So, it’ll be interesting. I have a lot of things to say to them, it would be hard to narrow it down to just one.

But just straight off the bat, I would say that if they truly care about the seals and any animals in the Arctic you would support Inuit seal hunting because environmental protection is a complex thing. The number one thing that is protecting the environment and the animals in the Arctic are the hunters who are out there on the land fighting the mining companies, the Canadian government, the uranium mine companies and for whale sanctuaries. Our hunters are the number one guardians of the Arctic, if people truly wanted to protect the Arctic, they would be supporting our hunters. Our hunters hunt all kinds of animals, but one of the few ways they could make an income is selling seal skins. It might be counterintuitive for a lot of people, but supporting seal hunting and buying seal skin helps protect the environment in the Arctic.

MM: In the documentary, an Inuit protester brings up how ironic it is that seal skin products are banned when, “in Europe, southern Canada and America they torture animals and eat tortured animals everyday,” referring to the mass produced farming industry. What are your thoughts about the irony?

AAB: I want to be careful how I speak about it because, there are a lot of vegetarians that live in urban centres and I respect the decision they make – it makes sense for them, but it’s not so black and white. I respect that they want to advocate for their world view, that’s fine. They’re entitled for their respective opinion. What bothers me is the people who are responsible for international trade law and regulation, who allow themselves to be bullied by these aggressive groups instead of standing up for people who are marginalized and living in poverty and hunger. They give into these groups and pass legislation that is quite discriminatory.

An individual anti-sealer can be consistent in their ideology – say if they chose not to eat meat and wear any animal products, then it makes sense to disagree with someone who is hunting and eating seals. But then there are many people who eat meat and wear leather, who disagree with seal hunting and I think that’s discriminatory. It is completely discriminatory and completely unfair to pass laws that ban seal skins especially when you can still use wool and wear leather.

I wish people would recognize that it’s just not right to crush an industry that affects only marginalized people who are living in poverty, and where seven out of ten children are going to school hungry. It’s just not right to be putting us up against one standard and the rest of the world to another.

Isuaqtuq, Joannie and Perry Ikkidluak butchering bearded seal | Image source: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
Isuaqtuq, Joannie and Perry Ikkidluak butchering bearded seal | Image source: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

MM: Do you believe that the work these animal activists groups are doing for sealskin bans is a form oppression and an extension of modern colonization?

AAB: I absolutely think that anti-seal campaigns are the new colonialism. Indigenous people everywhere have dealt with the Canadian government and church trying to put shame on us for being who we are. For Inuit to try to make a living and survive, a big obstacle is the animal groups that put out these anti-seal campaigns. It’s just another source of unwelcome shame. I am not going to feel ashamed.

There are people who try to put shame on me from far away who have never been north, who have never seen what it’s like to live in a place with no trees and no option for agriculture, and who don’t see what it’s like when you’re in a tiny remote Inuit community. [Seal hunting] is still the most local available nutritious food source. When there are literally million and millions of seals in the ocean, it makes no sense to me to be flying in avocados from Argentina.

MM: Angry Inuk carries a very important message in the film. Where will it be screened next after Hot Docs is over?

AAB: It’s a co-production with my company, Unikkaat Studios, and the National Film Board. The NFB is handling distribution, and we are working together on a festival strategy. This issue is so important to me because I’m trying to change minds of people who affect me and my people. I want this film to be seen in Europe and the United States because those are the areas that have really affected the seal skin market. We’re aiming to get it seen in major festivals in those areas, so I have to hold off on releasing it to the wider public until that has happened. It will probably take about a year to do the festival cycle, then it will be on Superchannel here in Canada and eventually on the National Film Board website. They put all of their films up online eventually.

I hope it will continue to be relevant. Year after year, the anti-seal campaigns come out in the spring when the seal hunting in the southern Canada happens. I hope this film will be seen at that time to remind people that the majority of seal hunters are actually Inuit and that while all the attention that is put on the Southern Canadian hunt, they shouldn’t forget about the Inuit. We shouldn’t be a footnote in the conversation. We’re the main deal.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril Bio

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril | Image source: National Film Board

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril is an Inuit filmmaker from the Canadian Arctic, where her production company, Unikkaat Studios, is based. For her award-winning APTN documentary Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos, Alethea travelled across the Arctic to speak with Elders about Inuit tattoo practices and the causes of their near-disappearance—before getting her own traditional face tattoos. She also directed the hypnotic short Inuit High Kick, the award-winning NFB animation Lumaajuuq: The Blind Boy and the Loon, and the animated short, Sloth. The latter was one of 15 shorts selected by renowned film programmer Danny Lennon for Telefilm’s Perspective Canada screenings at the Cannes Film Market. She was an executive producer on Miranda de Pencier’s award-winning Throat Song and co-produced both Arctic Defenders, a feature documentary by John Walker, and, with White Pine Pictures, the feature documentary Experimental Eskimos. Most recently, Alethea directed Aviliaq: Entwined as part of the Embargo Project.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto to an Algonquin mother and Ojibwe father, Erica Commanda grew up on the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan reservation located in Golden Lake, Ontario. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and recently returning to Toronto. Erica spent the last 8 years in the hospitality industry mastering the art of listening to stories while slinging and spilling drinks with a couple of stints volunteering in provincial election campaigns. Serving drinks no longer satisfies her quest for stories and change so she ventured out to discover and master her own knack for storytelling and writing. Erica is now enrolled into Journalism at George Brown College in Toronto and continues to perfect her new craft as Staff Writer trainee at MUSKRAT Magazine and The Xtra Mile.

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