Opinion | The sour taste of Europe’s hypocrisy

Dear reader, I hope you have the patience and sympathy to read the following 911 words about the situation facing Greenlandic seal hunters.

First though, as the president of KNAPK, Greenland’s union of fishermen and hunters, I would like to extend a word of thanks to Torsten Nielsen, the managing director of Kopenhagen Fur, for generously footing the bill to run a booth selling sealskin products at Tivoli’s Christmas fair this year.

You support us now just as you, together with the Greenlandic government and the tannery Great Greenland, supported us during our effort to raise awareness about Greenlandic sealskin, first when Copenhagen department store Magasin announced its ban, and then this May, during Labour Day celebrations in Copenhagen. We’re thankful that you, once again, have chosen to support Inuits and seal hunters in Greenland.

You aren’t the only ones that support our sustainable seal hunt. We are proud that the Danish chapter of the World Wildlife Foundation came out this May and stated publicly that the Greenlandic seal hunt is sustainable and humane. Greenpeace Denmark also did the same. We thank them for that. What they say is true, and it is high time people start realising that.

We have chosen to continue our fight against the EU’s ban on the import of sealskin, as well as its so-called ‘Inuit exemption’. The ban itself criminalises the import of all sealskin, except those sold by Inuits. But here, three years after the ban was put in place, Inuit seal hunters sell 90 percent less to the EU than they did in 2006, when the ban first started to be discussed in Brussels. The blanket ban, as well as animal rights activists’ inhumane and misunderstood concern for the animal hunters’ prey, has gradually eroded the market for sealskin over the past three decades. As a result, Greenlandic identity and the way of life of Greenland’s 60 towns are seriously threatened.

To those of you reading this who are trying to understand what I am trying to say, let me make it clear: we believe that understanding and tolerance are better than a ban, as it would give consumers the opportunity to come to their own conclusion before buying this year’s Christmas gifts.

What we are asking for is fair and equal access to the market and to consumers. Blanket bans and failure to recognise seal as a natural resource appears to us in the Arctic to be not only hypocritical, but also demeaning towards our culture and our identity. In truth, I see this as nothing less than a clear violation of the UN declaration of the rights of aboriginal peoples.

For modern Inuits, the seal is an irreplaceable part of our life and our identity. In our world, close to nature, our lives are closely tied to the seal. On the one hand, we offer it our respect and our admiration; on the other hand, we shoot them, we eat them and we have nothing against selling their hides.

I repeat what I said during my address in Copenhagen in May: we shoot seals in Greenland. Seals that have lived a life in the wild are shot by skilled hunters who treat their prey with the full respect they deserve. The first Inuits would not have survived in Greenland had it not been for the seal; they provided food, blubber for fuel and hides for warmth. This is why we respect the seal. To this day, the seal is an essential part of our diet, and the sale of sealskin is an important source of income for hunters and their families.

What makes the EU’s blanket ban and its consequent criminalisation of the sealskin trade even harder to understand is the fact that today’s seal hunt is 100 percent sustainable. The two most important species, the harp seal and the ringed seal, have a combined population of 12 million and rising. Each year, some 150,000 seals are shot. There are, in fact, so many seals that they threaten fishing stocks and the livelihood of another group of Greenlanders, our fishermen. Even the EU’s own fishing authority is seeking to regulate seal populations on the union’s own coasts – only without actually making use of their meat or hides. My dear readers, can you see the logic here? We Inuits sure can’t.

My wish is to be able to inform people about Inuits and seal hunters so that they can be knowledgeable, tolerant and at ease about our seal hunt. We also hope that Danish lawmakers will stop sitting on their hands and work to gain sympathy for our situation and to show that tolerance and understanding are better than a ban for us: Inuits and the EU.

Before ending, I’d like to cite another of the experts who voiced their support for us during our demonstration in May. Professor Michael Böos of the Centre for Canadian Studies at the University of Aarhus wrote, in an op-ed entitled ‘Give us this day our daily seal’, that “even though it might not be the most politically correct thing you could do, buying a sealskin jacket next winter is actually the most ethical thing you can do.”

Lastly, it’s interesting to point out that in May, Magasin, which is owned by the UK’s Debenhams, implemented an animal welfare policy. The policy stipulates that it will only sell fur from animals slaughtered in the food industry. According to Debenhams, then, Inuit seal isn’t a source of food.

The author is the president of KNAPK, the Greenlandic association of fishermen and hunters.