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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadians should wear sealskin to celebrate the country's birthday on July 1, an Inuit leader said on Friday, in defiance of a European movement to ban the import of Canadian seal products.
"I am quite tired of other people telling us how to live our lives, without taking the time to learn about our culture and way of life," National Inuit leader Mary Simon said.
"I am calling on Canadians who support us to get some seal clothing and wear it in a show of solidarity to Inuit and other Canadian sealers on Canada Day."
Simon said she made the plea in response to plans by animal rights protesters to gather in Brussels and demand a prohibition on seal items like furs, skins and health products.
Protesters -- supported by celebrities like Paul McCartney and Brigitte Bardot -- have long objected to the seal hunt for its cruelty. They've won widespread public opinion over the years with graphic footage of young seal pups being bludgeoned to death on the ice.
Canada's assurances this year that it would impose new rules to ensure the animals are killed more humanely has done little to dampen the protests.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper defends the seal hunt as a traditional way of life among Canada's aboriginal peoples and a an important source of income for many small communities along the Atlantic Coast.
"Sealing is still important to the Inuit economy in 2008," said Simon, who wore a sealskin vest at a public event earlier this month.
"It angers me that animal-rights protesters, ignorant of and callous toward Inuit culture, are trying to take that away."
Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson