Iqaluit hosted the G7 summit this past weekend. Finance ministers from seven countries – Canada, the US, the UK, Japan, France, Germany and Italy – met in Nunavut’s capital on Friday and Saturday, bringing with them a flurry of security, media attention, journalists, political staffers, an extra generator, new computers and extra RCMP officers (although no protestors) to the streets of Iqaluit.
Apparently, it was impossible to get a hotel room or rent a car. Sadly, our weekly happy hour tradition was cancelled as our venue of choice – the Nova Hotel’s Kickin’ Caribou Pub – was reserved for the G7 event. Its lobby was full of friendly faces ready to greet important International Figures and provide information to those who asked. In addition, one of the rooms on the main floor was transformed into one of two media centers with a slew of brand-new computers waiting to be used by journalists. The main telecommunications company here, Northwestel, issued a warning that Internet may be slow and calls may be dropped. The airport parking lot was cleared of snow for the first time since the fall – when I arrived we had to wrestle baggage carts over a few good inches of uneven snow to the waiting car. Not so for G7 delegates.
Allegations of Canada’s ulterior motives in choosing Iqaluit flew with various media reports and others suggesting it was a chance to push the EU’s ban on sealskin, one of the more contentious political issues up here. Seal has been omnipresent at the events, with volunteers and employees being asked to wear sealskin, seal meat prominent on the menus, and delegates being sent home with a variety of sealskin gifts – at least if they were able to make it through customs.
I take issue with the upset over the seal hunt for a few reasons, the first of which is how do you think the chicken/pork/beef on your plate today (or wore on your shoes or belt or purse or wallet or jacket) was raised and killed? The second is how much beyond what Linda McCartney said about the seal hunt do you really know about it?
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on either of those questions. The first question is part of the reason I’m a vegetarian and the second question is the reason I think we should all stop jumping to conclusions. In reality, the truth is I think seals have it better.
First of all, the nice thing about being a seal as opposed to a chicken or a pig or a cow is that you get to live your life. This argument is for all those animal rights people out there: seals aren’t bred to be eaten. They are born into a loving seal family, get to frolic around the open Arctic with their friends and family eating fresh real food when they want, sleep when they want, do what they want, when they want and live where they want. Free-range animals are approaching this freedom, but they are still generally confined to a fenced area. Those animals who aren’t so lucky to live in a free-range environment live in stalls or coops and get a certain number of hours a day outside and eat processed food full of hormones. Yum.
Secondly, if you’re going to die, its nice not to die in vain. If you are an animal, that means being used to the max, rather than have someone pick out the best parts and leave the rest of you as waste. When it comes to seals, almost all the parts are used: a lot of it is eaten, and what isn’t eaten is used to make clothing (vests are all the rage) or accessories (sealskin flower for your hair) or footwear (called kamiks, they are fashionable and the warm – a combination that is almost impossible to find in footwear).
Animals should be killed for their utility, not because you can. There is a decent number of people in the South who kill things because they are bigger than them and have guns. Seals here have been killed for centuries because of their utility – food, boots, mittens, vests. Seals are kind of like a one stop shop for food and warm clothing. Its especially handy given the lack of supermarkets and Mountain Equipment Coops (or Outdoors Oriented stores, if you’re from St. Catharines), especially outside of Iqaluit and for the centuries before either supermarkets or technical outdoor survival gear was developed.
So dear G7, now that you’ve saved the world by talking about how you are going to talk about bank reforms, slowed my internet and worsened my phone network this weekend, the least you can do is take your sealskin gifts and think about what your issue with the seal hunt really is. The EU ban has really devalued sealskin products and as such impacted the livelihood of people living here, leading to huge subsidies from the federal government to ensure people are able to make ends meet. Money, that given the recent criticism over access to food and infant mortality here, could probably be better spent elsewhere. That’s just me though.