Film still of Angry Inuk | Image source: National Film Board
Welcome to the Seal Meat Fiasco 2017 which includes an Indigenous restaurant: Kukum Kitchen which features seal meat, an anti-seal petition from animal rights activists demanding the seal meat be removed from their menu, and a counter petition aimed at educating the public about the actual facts of the seal hunt. What follows next are uncomfortable discussions that Canadians need to have about Indigenous food sovereignty and how to be better informed on Indigenous issues before blindly creating or signing a petition grounded in misinformation that imposes western belief systems onto Indigenous peoples.
The anti-seal petition is an all too familiar racist attack on Indigenous sovereignty, specifically food sovereignty, and is an extension of old, paternalistic, colonial impositions. A significant tactic of colonialism has been to remove the traditional lifestyle and cultures of Indigenous Peoples through the removal of their food sources. For example, eradication of the buffalo, forcing people onto reservations, to impose western diets and life styles, and now the anti-seal campaigns. This whole situation also begs the question: why do these animal rights supporters seem to care more about a sustainably hunted animal than the sustainability of Indigenous Peoples and their way of life?
“It comes down to pure ignorance and a lack of education,” says Aylan Couchie, who started the counter petition. “I think there is a general inability for some of these people to see the world outside of their own experience of it. I keep encountering a dialogue that is based on the idea that if they can go to the grocery store and pick up vegetables, then everyone should. That’s just not a realistic expectation in our country. People still live off the land. People still depend on animals for economic and nutritional sustenance.”
Kukum Kitchen is co-owned by Chef Joseph Shawana of Wikwemikong First Nation. Although the anti-seal petition aimed at the restaurant states, “It’s 2017 and knowledge is power,” it fails to cite any verifiable information sources and is solely based on on anecdotal evidence aiming to tug on the heart strings of animal lovers everywhere. The petition ends with, “these are intelligent beings that do not want to die. Please sign and demand that Kukum Kitchen take seal meat off their menu. Let’s protect the seals and keep them off our plates.” So far it seems to be working as the petition has now reached over 5000 signatures.
In an effort to educate the original petitioner and supporters, Toronto based artist and activist, Aylan Couchie (Anishinaabe), started the counter petition that cites several information sources where people can learn about the detrimental effects that the mis-informed, anti-seal campaigns have had on Inuit communities in the north. One of them being the award winning documentary, Angry Inuk. “Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s film Angry Inuk has had a great impact on those who have seen it,” says Couchie. “Throughout these past few days I’ve seen people sharing what they learned from her film with others, I can’t think of a better way to gauge a film’s success than that.” *
The common theme in online discussions on the subject is the willful ignorance of these so called animal rights supporters. These supporters are more than ready impose their misguided beliefs on Indigenous people, while not even listening to them, and disguising it as animal rights activism. On the original petition site, Susan A. from Ontario says, “The seal hunt is barbaric. If that’s what you want indigenous culinary arts to be known as……. you can keep them. BOYCOTT this restaurant for as long as they serve seal meat. We’re not in the arctic here mate.” Also on the petition, Jessica H. from Ontario states, “seal hunts are barbaric and have no place in 2017, and as such, no restaurant should be serving seal meat!”
Despite the one sided discussions, the counter petition demonstrates the strength and resilience of the Indigenous community and their allies. Seal meat will still be on Kukum Kitchen’s menu no matter how many signatures a petition collects, Indigenous chef’s will feature whatever they want in their restaurants and Indigenous run restaurants will thrive. Just take a look at the outstanding reviews of Kukum Kitchen online.
The Inuit have been hunting seal sustainably and humanely for thousands of years. In an often barren landscape hunting seals is a major source of food, clothing and other survival essentials which includes cultural knowledge and expression. The seal and the Inuit hold a symbiotoc relationship- it’s both a way and a cycle of life rooted in respect and interdependence on the natural environment for millenia.
In order for Canada to move forward as a society from this discussion and become more culturally informed, Couchie suggests, “educate yourself on the history of the places and people whom you choose to petition in your quest for ‘justice’. Canada’s long history of colonialism and oppression of Indigenous people and their culture MUST be taken into account and considered before choosing to inflict more damage on a community that is still working through 150+ years of violence.” Get educated anti-sealers!