Ever since the first contact with "the West," going back to early
European explorers like Martin Frobisher in the 1570s, the question
for the Inuit has been, "What can we sell to the world?"
As dependent on imports as ever, the people of the new Canadian
territory of Nunavut, in the eastern Arctic, are asking the same
question today. But one of the potentially most promising answers -
expanding the sealskin trade - is entangled in the international
politics of hunting.
The Inuit efforts to expand this sector are being tracked by
international experts as a test case of indigenous economic
development. As a recent Worldwatch Institute magazine report noted,
the Inuit "now have what may be a unique opportunity: a chance to
create a self-sustaining economy in a region relatively insulated
from the intense population and resource pressures that jeopardize
indigenous cultures in so many other parts of the world."
But closer to home, the Nunavut sealing strategy is about
In an interview in his office at the Legislative Assembly here,
Peter Kilabuk, territorial minister for sustainable development,
scribbles out a simple bar chart to demonstrate how Nunavut could
nearly triple its volume in sealskins traded - without one more
bullet being fired. But Mr. Kilabuk acknowledges that the people of
Nunavut face a public relations struggle. The hunters "have been
somewhat misunderstood in their efforts to maintain traditional
lifestyles. The southern public has not been educated well enough to
The goal in Nunavut is to build consumer demand for the furs in
order to push up prices, which will in turn make it economic to
prepare for sale skins of animals already being hunted for food.
To this end, an eight-piece "Nunavut collection" of sealskin
garments will be on display this Thursday at the North American Fur
& Fashion Exposition (NAFFEM) in Montreal.
CALL it Canada's other seal hunt. The annual springtime clubbing
of photogenic white harp seal pups off the coast of Newfoundland has
been the focus of a perennial media campaign by international
environmental organizations. Europeans, who once craved Canada's
furs enough to justify perilous trading voyages by Frobisher and
others, have in intervening centuries discovered central heating.
They have largely turned their backs on sealskin. In the United
States, imports of seal products have been illegal since the Marine
Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972.
All this leaves the people of Nunavut immensely frustrated.
"So many people misunderstand the way that our hunt up here is
different from the one in Newfoundland," says Monica Ell, owner of
Arctic Creations, a cottage enterprise that produces sealskin coats,
mitts, and other garments. …