Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory forming the coastline of Canada’s third ocean. The population of 30,000 people is 85% Inuit. The 25 communities are spread throughout an area that is one-quarter the size of Canada and with no access by roads, only by air.
The ancestors of the first Inuit emigrated from eastern Siberia more than 4,000 years ago. They have shown remarkable ingenuity in adapting to the extreme cold of the long, dark winter. The frigid climate, permafrost and absence of arable soils limit the options for locally available food. Conventional farming is not an option in these conditions. The vast landscape has few trees to provide fuel or shelter. To meet the basic needs for food and warmth, Inuit have relied on fish, fowl or mammals. This has deepened the connection between Inuit and their environment. Today, seal meat continues to be a nutritious alternative to store-bought groceries shipped from distant cities.
Ringed seals were essential to survival and used for food and clothing. Seal hunting requires great patience, and Inuit hunters have developed an enormous respect for the spirits of the animals they rely on. Seals have always been central to Inuit culture, sustaining traditional sharing customs, conveying a special knowledge of the seal and its ecosystem, and keeping skills and values alive from generation to generation.
Traditional values shape today’s guiding principals of the seal hunt in Nunavut: it must be sustainable, humane, and use the entire animal as a source of locally-harvested food, clothing, and arts and crafts.