Tanya Tagaq at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, May 2017.

By Barb Nahwegahbow

International animal activist organizations have been waging a battle against seal hunting since the 1960’s. Most of the seal hunters in Canada and in the world are Inuit and so the battle boils down to a battle against the Inuit and their traditional way of life.

This battle and its devastating consequences on the Inuit are the subject of the award-winning film, Angry Inuk, by filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. The film was recently screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of their Food on Film program. Internationally-renowned throat singer Tanya Tagaq was available following the screening.

In 1983 when the European Union banned all products made from white seal pups, it caused, “our own Great Depression,” says Alethea Arnaquq-Baril . Even though the Inuit don’t sell white seal skins, all seal products became tainted and the whole market crashed.

It’s clear that the powerful animal activist organizations are looking at the issue of seal hunting through a colonial capitalist lens. The anti-seal lobby is big business, raking in millions of dollars for organizations that include Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International and PETA.

During her research, Arnaquq-Baril found a 1978 CBC radio interview with former Greenpeace leader, Paul Watson. Watson acknowledged that the seal hunt has always turned a profit for Greenpeace and the other organizations. “The seal is very easy to exploit as an image”, he said in the 1978 interview.

Humane Society International has over $200 million in assets. Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 Inuit children go to school hungry and their families are paying almost $30 for a head of cabbage. The Inuit are the most food insecure Indigenous people anywhere in the developed world.

There’s no acknowledgement or understanding by anti-seal hunting groups or their supporters that the Inuit have survived for hundreds of years in an unforgiving environment by hunting and honouring the seals and other animals upon whom their lives depend. For over a hundred years, the seal hunt was their main economy as well as a major and nutritious food source.

None of the representatives of the anti-seal hunt organizations have actually ever visited the Inuit. The filmmaker’s efforts to get interviews with them were fruitless.

The film follows the Inuit on their 2009 trip to Europe to lobby the EU Parliament as they consider a new anti-seal ban. The ban is passed and it’s even worse than the last one, rejecting all seal products including seal skin, oil and meat in the 27 nation bloc. “It felt like a darkness over the heart and mind,” says the leader of the hunter’s association. The price per skin fell from $100 to about $10.

Following the screening, special guest Tanya Tagaq was in conversation with Ariel Smith, Executive Director of ImagineNative.

“We’re all affected by the colonial system and the colonial thought process,” Tagaq said. “A lot of people don’t understand that in order to have taken this entire continent through genocide and slavery, there had to be a prevailing attitude that we [Indigenous people] were lesser than, or that we were godless, or we were dirty, we weren’t smart enough…that attitude is still swimming directly under the surface of all of our consciousness. Even us. We have to fight feeling dirty, feeling stupid, feeling wrong. That feeling comes from the colonial system. We all just have to be aware of it, be open to it and allow the change to happen.”

Angry Inuk is an NFB production.