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* Inuit "Sealfies"

* Inuit sealing vs Canada's commercial seal hunt

* Are Inuit harmed by our efforts? "Angry Inuk" lies

* EU Import ban changed to allow Inuit seal imports

* Brief summary of Inuit history in Canada

* Modern Inuit culture

* What is subsistence living?

* The Inuit lawsuit against the EU seal import ban

* Does the EU import ban violate Inuit rights?

* Harpseals.org's focus



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The Question of Inuit Seal Hunting: 'Sealfies', Subsistence Sealing, and Commercial Sealing

Some Inuit of Canada and their supporters have been promoting the commercial harp seal hunt in Canada and connecting their seal hunting with the commercial sealing in Newfoundland and the Magdalen Islands.


Inuit "Sealfies"

In March 2014, Ellen DeGeneres took a 'selfie' at the Oscars which was re-tweeted enough to win a $3 million prize from Samsung, half of which Ellen donated to HSUS to help end Canada's seal hunt.

After this 'selfie', some Inuit and their supporters decided to post 'sealfies', pictures of themselves in sealskin coats and with seals they've killed.

This was just one of the efforts to confound the commercial seal hunt with Inuit sealing.

Inuit sealing vs. Canada's commercial seal "hunt"

Newfoundland and Magdalen Islands commercial fishermen participate in the commercial seal hunt. They primarily target harp seal pups between three weeks and three months of age and kill them mainly for their fur. They sell the blubber, which is attached to the pelt, to be used a "health food supplement." They leave almost all the flesh behind. Read more about the Canadian commercial seal "hunt" here.

Few Inuit participate in this purely commercial activity of killing seals for their fur.

The Inuit have a long-standing tradition of killing seals. Most are ringed seals. Smaller numbers of harp seals, bearded seals, hooded seals and harbor seals are killed. These seals are killed primarily for food.

Traditionally, they target adult seals, because there is much more flesh on adult seals than on seal pups just weeks or a few months old.

They have also traditionally used the seals' skins as clothing. When they have extra skins, they share or barter with their neighbors.

According to the research paper, "Seal Blood, Inuit Blood, and Diet: A Biocultural Model of Physiology and Cultural Identity" by Kristen Borre, of the Department of Anthropology at Dickinson College, (published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly in volume 5, issue 1, March 1991, pages 48 - 62), who conducted research in the Nunavut town of Clyde River, "The belief that human and animal spirits cycle between the spiritual and physical world, distributed widely among Arctic hunters....finds its parallel in Clyde Inuit beliefs that the cycling of animal blood and human blood creates a healthy human body and soul, as well as an ecological balance between human and seal populations. By properly hunting animals, providing shares of the animals to others, and consuming all of the meat, Inuit can be assured of health....

"Clyde hunters and elders explained that hunters and seals have a special agreement by which the hunter may capture a seal for the subsistence of his family. In turn, both the hunter and seal are believed to benefit: the hunter is able to sustain the life of his people by having a reliable source of food, and the seal, through its sacrifice, agrees to become a part of the body of the Inuit. This sacrifice is also believed to allow the surviving seal population to reproduce....

"Inuit believe that if they do not hunt animals properly, the latter will disappear because they have been offended and will no longer be able to reproduce."

Have Inuit been harmed by our campaigns to end the commercial seal "hunt"? Lies, Deception, and Misinformation in "Angry Inuk" film

Some Inuit, including Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, producer of the film "Angry Inuk," claim that efforts to end the commercial seal "hunt" hurt them. They say that bans on seal skin imports, like the European Union 2009 seal product import ban, have resulted in lower prices for seal pelts and that their ability to earn a livelihood has suffered as a result. The truth is that the Nunavut territorial government pays them a guaranteed, fixed (high) price, regardless of how market prices change for seal skins.

The Nunavut government does not stop there. It provides several other subsidies to sealers and seal skin tailors and business owners as well. The only subsidy that is lost when the market price for seal fur declines is the provision of excess funds over the fixed price per pelt that is sometimes obtained from the fur auction to which the government sends Nunavut's excess seal pelts.

What's more, sealing has never been a real industry in Nunavut. As Nunatsiaq Online's editorial board wrote in 2010, "in 2007-08, more than one year prior to the EU seal ban, only 1,101 Nunavut seal pelts, bought from hunters by the Government of Nunavut, were sold at auction, generating a grand total of $61,551 in sales. That represents less than the total salary earned by one low-level GN worker.

In 2008-09, Nunavut sales were better: 4,059 pelts, for a total of $155,485.

The seal hunt in Newfoundland, on the other hand, generates about $7 million a year, based on an annual cull of up to 280,000 seals."

In "Angry Inuk," Alethea Arnaquq-Baril claims, "It's been about a year since the new ban was passed. Before the ban, Inuit were selling about 60,000 skins a year. Now we're selling less than half that number. And the prices for each skin fell from around a hundred dollars down to about 10 dollars."

Nunavut seal skin sales

This graph shows that between 2002 and 2011, the total number of ringed seal skins sold by Nunavut residents annually never exceeded 8,500.

This claim is directly contradicted by the Nunavut government's report on Inuit sealing and the effect of the EU seal import ban.

According to the Nunavut government's report (see pp. 17 - 28 for English translation), from 2002 to 2007, the total number of Nunavut ringed seal skins sold ranged from 5,000 to about 8,400, with an average of less than 7,200 skins per year. This average is about 20% of the number of harp seals killed in the East coast commercial harp seal slaughter in 2015, which was the smallest number of harp seals killed since 1993.

The total number of ringed seals killed by Inuit each year is approximately 30,000, according to the Nunavut report. Thus most seal skins are used within the community.

The report exposes that the average annual pelt price of Nunavut seal skins ranged from about CAN$33 to CAN$71 during this six year period preceding the EU import ban, with the average over that period being about CAN$54. In the two years post-ban shown in the chart, pelt sales and prices were stable at about 4,000 pelts commanding CAN$16 - CAN$17 on average. Total revenues are thus shown as being about CAN$167,000 in 2002, rising to about CAN$500,000 in 2006 (when Carino admitted to having paid exorbitant prices for harp seal pelts) and declining to about CAN$440,000 in 2007. Post-EU ban revenues were about CAN$100,000 in 2010 and 2011.

Nunavut seal skin sale prices

Claims made by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril in "Angry Inuk" regarding Inuit seal skin sale prices before and after the EU seal skin import ban are shown to be false.

If Inuit who make their living hunting seals saw a reduction in their income, it is important to ask how many Inuit were affected. According to the 2016 federal government census, only 155 people in Nunavut made their living in one or more of the categories "Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting." That number was 110 in 2006, before the EU seal pelt import ban.

As the Nunavut government report confirms, "Seals have been vital to human survival in the Canadian Arctic for thousands of years, and subsistence continues to be the primary motivation for Inuit hunting of seals." It goes on to say, "The cash generated from the sale of sealskins that are a byproduct of the traditional subsistence hunt, finances continued hunting activities which have become increasingly expensive due to higher capital and operating costs." Higher costs are due to the modernization of seal hunting - using snowmobiles and rifles rather than the traditional spears and wooden boats.

But the cash generated from Inuit sealing, since well before the EU ban, has been minimal.

On the other hand, federal government funds provided to Nunavut are substantial, especially when compared with the funds provided to Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec.

Province / Territory

Federal support in 2018-9 Fiscal Year (CAN $)

Population (2016 Census)

Federal funds per person (CAN $)


1.6 billion



Newfoundland and Labrador

750 million




23.7 billion



And the federal government continues to provide millions of federal dollars to support and promote Inuit sealing and trade in seal skins obtained by Inuit.

What does the government of Nunavut do with its funds? According to the 2015-6 Nunavut government report on grants and contributions given to individuals and organizations, much more money is provided to organizations, associations, and individuals for hunting, sealing, meat distribution, seal clothing production workshops, and general assistance than would be lost if Inuit could not sell any seal skins outside Nunavut. And no matter what happens with seal product import bans around the world, Inuit are still able to sell to the Canadian population, which exceeds 39,000,000.

If the 155 Nunavut hunters need more money for their capital and operational needs beyond the tens of millions that are already being given to them, surely the government can grant more funds to assist them. Perhaps they can reduce funding of the hockey, soccer, and volleball associations, which together received CAN $1.43 million, a substantial amount, considering that there are only 35,944 people in Nunavut and they probably don't all play these sports.

Funds awarded by Nunavut government (CAN $)

Recipient and purpose


Sum of three awards to three individuals for 2 seal skin sewing workshops and one "seal celebration" event


Town of Igloolik seal hunting project


Town of Igloolik walrus hunting project


Nunavut arts and crafts association to help seal skin designers promote their products


University of Mannitoba for a ringed seal "IQ knowledge study"


Ilisaqsivik Society for a seal skin cleaning workshop


Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, a non-profit organization, for "Hunters and Trappers Organizations Core Funding"


To Kitikmeot Inuit Association for "Kitikmeot Men's Hunting Stories"


Several "Country Food Distribution Programs" Note: "Country Food" refers to meat from wildlife, including seals and caribou.


Several hunting and trapping associations in Nunavut for "Commercial Harvester's Assistance."


"Social Assistance Payments" given to individuals


Changes to the EU ban to allow imports of Inuit seal skins

In 2015, the EU modified the import ban on seal products to allow imports of seal products obtained by Inuit under certain circumstances, even though "A genuinely humane killing method cannot be effectively and consistently applied in the hunts conducted by the Inuit and other indigenous communities, just like in the other seal hunts."

The circumstances outlined in the amendment require that:

  • The hunt has been traditionally conducted by the community
  • The hunt contributes to the subsistence of the community and is not conducted primarily for commercial reasons
  • The hunt is conducted in a manner which reduces pain, distress, fear or other forms of suffering of the animals hunted to the extent possible taking into consideration the traditional way of life and the subsistence needs of the community.

We will see whether the EU prohibits products from seal pups, who would not be killed in accordance with traditional sealing.

All this has not stopped the federal government (or fur trade associations) from using the Inuit - playing the "Inuit card" - as a way to prop up the dying commercial sealing industry.

Below we go into some detail on Inuit history and their relationship to and use of seals.

Inuit history

In the 1500's, Europeans established colonies in regions of northern Canada occupied by the Inuit. Contact with the Europeans influenced the Inuit way of life from the beginning.

These influences grew in the 1800's as missionaries proselytized the Inuit. Today, most are Christians, though their traditional Shamanism still influences their religious beliefs.

In the 20th century, the European/Canadian influence on the Inuit grew stronger as the Canadian government ruled that the Inuit were Indians and therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

In the mid-20th century, the Canadian government established policies to encourage assimilation of the Inuit into Canadian culture. Instead of living in the traditional nomadic way, permanent communities were established with wooden buildings, and medical care was provided by the Canadian government. Boarding schools were established by the Canadian government in Inuit areas in the 1960's.

Today many Inuit look back on this aspect of their history with anger and many non-Inuit Canadians are ashamed of this government policy, particularly because the Canadian government prohibited students in boarding schools from speaking their mother tongue, in an effort to make them assimilate.

Modern Inuit culture

Mary Simon, head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (Inuit council), Photo: New Zealand Government, Office of the Governor-General

Modern Inuit culture includes traditional hunting and gathering in addition to consumption of foods transported from the south. Inuit consume sodas, processed foods, breads, and meats bought from grocery stores.

Today, Inuit work in mining, the petroleum industry, construction, tourism, government, and other occupations. All Inuit communities now have high speed internet access.

Some Inuit also earn a living as artisans, creating stone sculptures, fabric wall hangings, jewelry, and paintings. The former mining town of Rankin Inlet has a thriving artisan community.

What is subsistence living?

A subsistence way of life or subsistence economy is not based on money. Rather, it is based on noncommercial, traditional hunting and gathering for personal use such as food, clothing, shelter, and fuel. This way of life can include barter and sharing, but not commercial trade (export and import).

Today, the Inuit do not live the traditional subsistence lifestyle. With wooden houses, grocery stores, ATV's, snowmobiles, and other modern amenities and a money-based economy, the subsistence economy is a relic of the past.

The Inuit do, however, engage in 'subsistence-like' or traditional hunting - hunting of adult seals and using all parts themselves or sharing with their community. The flesh of seals and other wildlife still provide a substantial portion of the Inuit's daily calories (though significantly less for younger Inuit than older Inuit).

Nevertheless, when some Inuit kill seals, especially young seals, for the purpose of selling skins commercially or to export their skins to foreign countries, they are not engaging in subsistence hunting.

The Inuit lawsuit

The Inuit Council (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) (along with the Norwegian fur company G. C. Rieber and Sons, the Fur Institute of Canada, Nu Tan Furs / Atlantic Marine Products, and others) have claimed that the EU ban on seal product imports violates the Inuits' human rights.

The EU ban on seal product imports specifically exempts products obtained by Inuit, if they meet certain criteria.

So why has the Inuit council claimed that the European Union's ban on imports of seal products, which excludes products from seals killed by Inuit, violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)?

Their lawsuit claimed that the ban "unduly limits the subsistence possibilities of the applicants, relegating their economic activities to traditional hunting methods and subsistence."

One might first question what could be wrong with limiting "subsistence possibilities" to subsistence. But putting aside the odd wording, the next question one might ask is why exports of seal skins by Inuit would even be exempt from the EU ban, given that this trade is inconsistent with a subsistence economy and with the traditions of the Inuit.

Nevertheless, the Inuit have a more well defined exemption, as of 2015, as decribed in the EU amendment, but the group lost their lawsuit.

What does the ECHR say?

The ECHR protects people's right to property, privacy, speech and expression while maintaining that nations can restrict personal freedoms when necessary.

The Inuit's rights would not be infringed by prohibiting seal skin imports into the EU, even if this ban were to include skins obtained by Inuit. The Inuit have maintained that they have the right to continue their traditional subsistence hunting, even though they no longer live in a subsistence economy. The Canadian government has granted the Inuit this right. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans sets quotas on the number of seals that sealers in the commercial seal hunt can kill, but Inuit and other Aboriginal people are exempt from these quotas.

Selling seal skins to the EU is not a basic human right nor is it consistent with subsistence hunting. Being able to command high prices for seal skins sold to the EU is certainly not a basic human right. For the Inuit to claim that, by reducing the market value of the pelts, the ban has infringed upon their rights is nothing short of ridiculous.

Harpseals.org's focus

Canada still kills

Harpseals.org is focused on ending the East coast commercial seal "hunt," which primarily involves off-season fishermen from Newfoundland and Quebec. Harpseals.org is not targeting Inuit "subsistence-like" sealing. Though we do not support commercial sealing by anyone, we are not focusing on the relatively few Inuit who engage in commercial sealing. Harpseals.org also does not seek to limit government purchases or subsidies to Inuit for sealing or other purposes, though we prefer that the government assist the Inuit in developing alternative sources of income.


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