Food may be the primary reason for hunting but sealskin can be turned into clothing and boots. These garments are sold locally, throughout Canada and abroad. The blubber has multiple uses. The oil provides heat and light when burned and as a capsule form, can be used as an export material.
Some of the seal meat is used to feed the sled teams. It remains the most nutritious and practical food for the dogs. Our children play traditional games using the seal flipper bones and left over skin. The fur and bones can be utilized in craft making activities.
Food & Nutrition
Due to the severe Arctic climate and vast distances between communities in Nunavut, the move toward economic diversification presents great challenges. In the absence of agriculture, wildlife provides virtually the only local source of food. This “country” food is often supplemented by other food items, usually of inferior nutritional value, shipped from southern Canada and sold at very high prices.
In earlier times, seal meat was a common part of the daily diet, as bread was in Europe. In the early 1700s, a missionary modified one verse of a popular prayer to “Give us this day our daily seal”.
Ringed seals are a vital part of the traditional diet. It is an important source of food today for people living in Nunavut’s 26 communities. Seal meat is very high in nutritional value. It is rich in proteins, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Seal meat contains omega-3, a type of fat thought to aid resistance to heart disease, as well as retinol, which is good for visual acuity and helps defend against upper respiratory infection. The fat in seal meat improves blood circulation.
Seal meat is generally not sold for commercial use, but shared with the family and the community.
- Download the Nunavut Food Guide
- Download the Canada Food Guide for Aboriginals
- Northern Contaminants Program
“When I think of seals. I think first of the food, and then I think of the skin. I like to make everything out of seal, including mitts and vests, as well as kamiks, our traditional boots”.
– Elisapee Kilabuk, Seamstress, Iqaluit, Nunavut
Clothing for an Cold Climate
The use of animal skins for clothing is an extremely important to the Northern lifestyle. Using animal skin and fur has been essential for survival in the harsh, cold climate of the Arctic for centuries.
Design and styles vary across Nunavut, however the most important element of clothing is heat conservation. Clothing and footwear is designed for extremely cold conditions. The garments must also breathe to eliminate humidity, yet hold fast against wind and moisture. Another important quality is durability. No artificial fabric has yet equaled traditional Inuit clothing for these characteristics.
Before sealskins can be sewn into garments, the hide must go through a preparation process. The hide must be cleaned in fresh water as soon as possible to wash away blood, salt and fat. It is then laid on a board where the fat and blubber are scraped away using a traditional curved knife called an ulu. After further washing and scraping the skin is stretched around a frame and left to air-dry. Once sufficiently dry the skins are then chewed or stomped on to remove stiffness.
Extra sealskins, surplus to domestic needs, are purchased by Conservation Officers in the Government of Nunavut and are sent south to auction. Some skins are dressed and dyed in the south and returned to Nunavut for garment manufacturing.