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Sadly, part of the history of aboriginal peoples worldwide is that of qallunaat (outsiders) telling first inhabitants what to do, with little or no regard for their culture, beliefs, traditions, and their needs honed over millennia in the face of their unique environment, their natural world. People of the circumpolar north have been subject to these pressures for centuries. Their challenges and adjustments have been staggering and not without suffering grave consequences.
This history of some non-natives dictating the “rules” permeates to this day, exemplifying the antithesis of self-determination. Writer/director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril does an excellent job of bringing this to the big screen in her documentary Angry Inuk.
Long before the arrival of qallunaat to the north, Inuit hunted animals as a means of survival – to fashion essential tools and clothing, to feed themselves, their families and community and one of their most precious possessions, their dogs. Seals were (and remain) an integral part of Inuit existence in so many ways. With the arrival of outsiders who settled within their regions, the seal, along with other fur bearing animals, became a commodity eagerly sought out for trade by both sides: non-Inuit for fashion demands of far away clients, and Inuit for goods they found useful.
In the 1960s, Atlantic Canada’s harvested harp seal pups (known as ‘white coats’) became the cause célèbre for the animal rights (AR) movement. These groups readily admit that their anti-sealing campaigns have always turned a huge profit – in the millions of dollars – by provoking emotions, exploiting baby seal images and staging theatrical human protests. This lucrative crusade resulted in pressure on the European Union (EU), to set the 1983 ban on the sale of white coat pelts. Although the EU exempted Inuit hunting other kinds of seals, the ban resulted in a generalized opposition to the sale of any kind of sealskin, strangling the commercial trade, a vital part of Inuit lifestyle and economy, all across the Canadian North. Considered a sustainable and renewable resource, no seals to this day are on any endangered species list! None of the anti-sealing players have ever set foot in the arctic to learn about Inuit way of life, nor were Inuit ever consulted. The market crashed, pelts plummeting from about $100 to $10.00 each.
“Inuit have always been an afterthought in international discussions around seal hunting. We are casualties of a faraway war.”While AR wallets grow fat, Inuit hunters, families, communities and their way of life are suffering in more ways than just due to increased food insecurity and economics. For example, reduced income from pelts no longer made it easy to purchase ammunition and gasoline which allowed more hunting.
“…we had no choice but to move away from our traditional grounds and into the town."That’s not all…the very balance of nature is being seriously disrupted by “unintended consequences”. With few economic options, commercial alternatives to the seal hunt such as seismic testing to explore for minerals and fossil fuels surrounding Baffin Island are a reluctant (on the part of environmentally conscientious Inuit) option. This activity is known to damage and panic marine mammals.
“Ironically by fighting to save the seal, all these groups have inadvertently put all the arctic animals, not to mention us humans, at higher risk.”Spearheaded by Aaju Peter, an Inuk lawyer, pro-seal hunting activist and sealskin clothing designer, delegations of Inuit made two trips to Europe, first in an attempt to have the EU rescind its even harsher 2009 ban of all seal products. When that failed, a more organized and active campaign was undertaken to have the EU vote to comply with two lawsuits to overturn the ban filed by Inuit organizations, which, despite Inuit groups best efforts, also failed. The AR presence at these meetings in Europe was loud and confrontational while “Inuit anger [was] much quieter…as losing your temper could be a sign of a guilty conscience.”
“How does a culture with an understated anger fight against a group that is infamous for the exact opposite behavior? How do we do it with no money when animal groups are spending millions a year against us?”Angry Inuk is a David and Goliath story, without a conclusion….yet. Although there is no happy ending, viewers see examples of Inuit resolve, continuing a campaign to educate the rest of the world about their culture and the need for Inuit participation in global discussions and decisions that directly affect them.
Angry Inuk is well-crafted. The dialogue, both the narration as well as interviews with Inuit hunters makes plain the scope of the issues. There is a very effective and engaging use of animated graphics used as cutaways, ample scenes of every day life (including a few of dogs) in Baffin Island communities of Iqaluit, Kimmirut and Pangnirtung. These include hunting, butchering, eating seal as well as “commercial” processing hides and crafting clothing, typically performed on kitchen and living room floors.
This 2016 multi-award winning film is a co-production of Unikkaat Studios and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Narration is in English and the Inuktitut spoken interviews have English subtitles. An 82-minute DVD is available through the NFB who is in the process of transferring its entire film collection to a new distributor, McIntyre Media. Angry Inuk will be available on that website shortly. In the meantime, you can contact the NFB directly to order the film by email or by phone: 1-800-267-7710. It is also available (since December 2017) through online retailers including many listed on amazon.com.