Angry Inuk opens at the floe edge near Kimmirut, Nunavut, Canada. It is a beautiful spring day in 2008; the water and sky are clear blue mirrors. “I love spring,” narrates the filmmaker, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. “Some of my earliest memories are of seal hunting as a family.” Her relative Joannie expertly shoots a ringed seal on camera. Back in Kimmirut, friends and relatives come over to feast. They eat, laugh, check Facebook. It is a joyous, comfortable scene. “At some point in my childhood,” Arnaquq-Baril interjects, “I realized there are people out there who don’t like seal hunting.” This documentary focuses on how seal hunting protests have harmed Inuit communities. Since the 1950s, anti-sealing campaigns have targeted Canadian harp seal hunts off Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Inuit did not participate in these hunts, but the protests made all sealskins unpopular, thereby decimating a main source of Inuit income. Angry Inuk also explores broader issues including cultural expressions of anger, styles of activism, and ways of relating to other people and the nonhuman world. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has justifiably won many awards for this film and her other work. The movie’s early scenes establish the importance of the commercial seal hunt to Inuit. Arnaquq-Baril speaks with Lasaloosie Ishulutak, who resisted and continued to live on the land after the Canadian government introduced policies to resettle Inuit into centralized communities in the 1950s and 1960s.1 It was not until 1983, when protesters succeeded in getting a European ban on seal products passed, that Ishulutak finally moved. Although the ban contained an exemption for Inuit hunters, Ishulutak could no longer pay for his hunting equipment and other modest needs by selling sealskins. He kept hunting seals for food but had to seek work in town. Inuit were deeply affected by this market collapse. In Arnaquq-Baril’s words, “It was our Great Depression.” She cites it as a contributing factor to the high suicide, poverty, and food insecurity rates that remain in Nunavut today. The film then moves onto Inuit activism and features Aaju Peter, an Inuk lawyer and sealskin clothing designer. In 2008 viewers follow Peter and a small group of volunteers to Strasbourg, where they hope to convince European Union parliamentarians to vote against a new proposed ban on seal products. The ban is debated on so-called moral grounds; seals are not endangered. Upon arrival the Inuit are dwarfed by billboards, toy whitecoat seals, and a huge inflatable seal set up by animal rights campaigns. The ban passes easily in March 2009, and although Peter works with Inuit organizations to launch legal challenges, they ultimately lose. Sealskin prices drop from $100 to $10, and Inuit sell half as many skins as previously. Visually, Angry Inuk is both stunning and intimate. It welcomes viewers into a place that few protesters, and relatively few non-Inuit, have ever seen. Most of the film was shot on location on southern Baffin Island, and the open land and sea contrast with the dense cityscapes where non-Inuit debate the ethics of seal hunting. There are shots of Inuit children happily eating raw seal meat and tobogganing on processed skins to clean off oily residue. Women gather to scrape and soften individual sealskins by hand. But viewers also see Inuit drinking tea, sending emails, and chatting in modern houses. Arnaquq-Baril points out that living well, and equipping a hunter, cost money in Nunavut today. She argues that when Inuit can no longer rely on sealskins as the basis for a viable commercial economy, they are forced to consider other, nonrenewable options that can have greater impacts on animals—like opening mines or drilling for oil. This film does not delve much into the complex history of animal rights activism. Arnaquq-Baril provides evidence that some organizations have used seal hunt protests as an easy source of income. Frank Zelko’s research on Greenpeace offers an additional point of view. In Canada, Zelko argues, the seal campaigns alienated many supporters and contributed to growing debt in Greenpeace’s Vancouver office in the 1970s. Yet many of the early protesters fiercely believed that opposing the seal hunt was the right thing to do. They hoped that publicizing mass killings of seal pups would convince their own society to reconsider its relationship to animals.2 In other words, both Inuit and animal rights activists strongly believed their actions were moral, correct, and life sustaining. But protesters have historically garnered far more publicity than Inuit. Arnaquq-Baril tries and fails for years to get current anti-sealing campaign leaders to speak with her. She questions why it is so difficult for Inuit concerns to be acknowledged. Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands) are far from the centers of protest, and Inuit are a small population. But Inuit also value self-control and “try to stay calm and reasonable when we’re upset.” Outsiders can therefore fail to recognize Inuit anger. Arnaquq-Baril contrasts this “quiet and soft” anger with the loud confrontational style for which anti-sealing activists became known, and she wonders how Inuit can best get their voices heard without compromising their values. Angry Inuk would be an ideal film to show to students learning about environmental movements. It could also fit well with course themes of environmental justice, resource extraction, hunters and farmers, and Indigenous or northern environmental history. It provides background for thinking about many other current events. To offer just two examples, in 2017 the new Toronto restaurant Kū-kŭm Kitchen included seal meat (as well as many other meats) on their menu. A petition to remove the seal dishes, and then a counterpetition, each garnered thousands of signatures. Secondly, Clyde River, one of the Inuit communities hit hardest by the sealskin bans, recently negotiated an unprecedented partnership with Greenpeace. Near the end of her film, Arnaquq-Baril mentions that Greenpeace apologized for the harm its former anti-sealing protests had caused to Indigenous peoples. Clyde River residents were then trying to appeal a Canadian decision permitting seismic testing for oil and gas deposits in their homeland. Inuit argued they had not been adequately consulted. They were concerned, based on previous experience with seismic testing, that the process could frighten, deafen, and injure marine life. After much discussion they decided to approach Greenpeace, which provided funding and publicity for the community’s legal challenge. Inuit won their case in Canada’s Supreme Court in July 2017. Photos of Clyde River’s former mayor Jerry Natanine beaming alongside Greenpeace Canada’s Farrah Khan appeared in the media.3 I wonder if students from outside sealing societies will be surprised that an Inuit community would ally with Greenpeace, or even be familiar with the protests that Angry Inuk is reacting against. For some students, the opening footage near Kimmirut may be the only sealing imagery they have ever watched closely. This could be used as a starting point for discussion. Why do anti-sealing protests loom so large in Arnaquq-Baril’s mind that she spent eight years making a film about them? What are the different scales and impacts of activism? Who can choose to ignore protests and who cannot? Who gets to decide what must be saved and what can be lost? How have some activists tried to address these issues? In short, this is a beautiful and important film, highly recommended not just for environmental history classes but for wide viewership. It encourages audiences to think about divergent styles of protest, about the relative nature of morality, and about the human place in nature. Arnaquq-Baril concludes, “It’s time for a new model of animal activism, and I hope the world will see that we, as Inuit, should be a part of it.” Notes 1. For readers who want more background on the Inuit societies depicted in Angry Inuk, particularly the sweeping changes instigated by the Canadian government from 1950 to 1975, see Qikiqtani Inuit Association, QTC Final Report: Achieving Saimaqatigiingniq (2013), available at qtcommission.ca. 2. Frank Zelko, Make It a Green Peace! The Rise of Countercultural Environmentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), chaps. 10–12. On Greenpeace and anti-sealing, see also John-Henry Harter, “Environmental Justice for Whom? Class, New Social Movements, and the Environment: A Case Study of Greenpeace Canada, 1971–2000,” Labour/Le Travail 54 (Fall 2004): 83–119. 3. See, for example, Joanna Kerr, “Greenpeace Apology to Inuit for Impacts of Seal Campaign,” Greenpeace Canada, June 25, 2014, http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/blog/Blogentry/greenpeace-to-canadas-aboriginal-peoples-work/blog/53339/; “Clyde River Hunters Laud ‘Surprising’ Greenpeace Partnership,” CBC News, November 16, 2015; “Clyde River Scores Big Win for Nunavut Inuit at Supreme Court,” Nunatsiaq News, July 26, 2017. For a history of the impact of anti-sealing protests on Clyde River, see George Wenzel, Animal Rights, Human Rights: Ecology, Economy and Ideology in the Canadian Arctic (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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