An activist, a lawyer and a sealskin clothing designer Aaju Peter fights for Inuit rights for traditional living methods. With main focus on trying to lift the European sealskin ban, she teaches also part-time at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, which is a college for Inuit youth in Ottawa and at the Early Childhood Education program at the Arctic College in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She speaks about Inuit culture and economy in high schools and universities in Ontario.
– I do many things because I don’t receive money to promote Inuit culture. I go to national and international screenings of “Angry Inuk”, the documentary about the seal hunt made by Alethea Arnaquq Baril. I try to make people understand what the European sealskin ban has done to the Inuit society. It is important for Europeans to understand that we don’t have any alternative economy. Our land is frozen 9 to 10 months of the year. We don’t have trees or farms. We are now forced to go into mining and that will result in the destruction of our lands and waters. We have 27 small communities and 26 of them can only be accessed by plane or ship. We have a rich culture and a strong connection to our environment.
Inuit culture is based mostly on oral tradition but that is changing. Aaju is collecting traditional knowledge to be used in colleges and to be available to anyone who wants to learn from them; anything from traditional child rearing practices to Inuit songs and games. Tradition isn’t just history stored, now in books. It is still an essential part of Inuit Life. Some traditions are practiced daily, like sharing of any animal that is caught by hunters. The Inuit share the animal with family, friends and students for example. They also share their knowledge on how to prepare skins and how to sew. It is essential to know how to make clothes in a cold environment.
– I work as a sealskin clothing designer too, but the market has crashed since the European sealskin ban. Fortunately the interest to purchase sealskin has grown since the screenings of Angry Inuk has started. People want to know how they can help the Inuit and the sealskin market. Unfortunately, there is a lot of resistance to purchase and wear sealskin because customers don’t understand the legislation. The EU legislation does permit European citizens to purchase sealskin products for their own use. Sadly nothing has been done to educate the Europeans about this. That would require a lot of money and manpower and me as a single person without any money, it’s just not doable.
Currently Aaju is working on a website where you will be able to purchase sealskin products. There will be also will be information about the sealskin ban and the Inuit exemption. But it is tought to get through to people. Europe has banned the import of seal products because they consider seal hunting inhumane. However, as Aaju points out, the Europeans don’t consider the growing and slaughtering of animals for food inhumane.
– We call the European seal ban the Bambification of Inuit culture. Europeans think that Inuit are a fiction of a Hollywood Movie, something so ancient, something to beautify and not to be changed. Europeans are trying to keep us as eskimos running around on the ice with spears and dog teams and not to be involved in modern life and not be involved in modern economy. We are not living in the stone ages. We are a part of this modern world. We are just as modern and connected to the rest of the world as any European citizen.
Yes, we kill seals and eat the meat to feed our communities. We use the seal down to it’s last bits. We have the highest food insecurity of any industrialized country in North America. We have the highest cost of living. We pay 3 to 7 times more money for anything we buy in our communities as any other Canadian who lives down south and I tell you, we have the highest unemployment. How do you think we are going to feed our families when we have no jobs and no money? The hunters are feeding our families. The Government of Canada and the Territorial Government of Nunavut are not feeding our families. What the Europeans and the anti-sealing groups did was to make life much harder for our people.
The hunters provide the healthiest food for Inuit and now they cannot go out to feed the communities because they are no longer able to get enough money by selling sealskin. They need money to buy gas, ammunition, food and pay rent and a snow mobile. They no longer has dogs because the Canadian government killed all the Inuit dogs in 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It is nearly impossible to provide anything for the community because the market for seal skin and seal products is almost none existent. I am proud that Alethea made this documentary so that people can hear from Inuit themselves the harm the animal right groups have done to the Inuit. The anti-sealing groups such as IFAW, PETA, and Greenpeace are responsible. When the anti-sealing campaign started in the 1960s, there were 1.5 million harp seals. We now have 10 million harp seals eating 10 million tonnes of fish in one year. The number is growing. Our oceans cannot sustain this. When there is too much of one species, such as the harp seal population, that is unsustainable and it is causing a lot of destruction of our waters.
This is not the first time Europeans fiddled with Inuit culture.
– It was due to Christianity that Inuit stopped having their tattoos because the missionaries thought the practice of tattooing had something to do with shamanism. This is not true. It is a cultural practice to show respect for the environment and to prepare a young woman for childbirth as she is becoming a woman. It was not a European Christian practice and therefore had to be thrown away.
It has been eight years since me and Alethea got our tattoos. It was a question of a right that was taken away. We took back that choice of having our tattoos so that our grandchildren and the younger generation can see their heritage and the traditional culture. They now have the choice, if they wish to learn more about Inuit traditional tattoos and we are setting an example for our youth. Alethea also made a documentary “Tunniit. Retracing the lines of Inuit tattoos.” In that documentary, she and I traveled in Nunavut and interviewed Inuit about what they knew about the tattoos.
Sat 11.03, 10 pm, Plevna 2