February 5, 2010 / 6:47 PM / 9 years ago

Seals are hot at chilly G7 Canadian Arctic meeting

IQALUIT, Canada (Reuters) - Seals are hot at the G7 meeting in Canada’s Arctic this weekend, whether it’s the sealskin mitts artisans are trying to sell, or the raw seal meat on the menu at a community feast on Saturday.

But officials and locals insist that hunting here is an essential livelihood for a community that already faces high prices for basic goods. Iqaluit, a town of 6,000 some 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, is only accessible by air in winter, when Frobisher Bay freezes into a jagged shoreline of blocks of ice, and life ain’t cheap.

“You’ve probably seen a lot of sealskin worn here, if you feel the temperatures out there it is a necessity,” said Eva Aariak, premier of Nunavut territory, where Iqaluit is located. “It’s part of our culture, it’s part of who we are.”

Speaking at an investment forum on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting of finance officials from rich industrialized nations being held in Iqaluit this weekend, she added: “Food is expensive here and we have to supplement our nutrition with seal and caribou.”

People here say there’s a world of difference between the hunting that is part of the Inuit culture and the grisly commercial seal hunts that are the annual target of animal rights groups. A proposed European ban on seal products will not apply to products from the Inuit hunt, and a group of teenagers sneaking a cigarette behind Iqaluit’s blue-block high school defended the hunting.

“They don’t realize that we’re here because of those animals,” said Leetia Naulaq, who was outside without hat or gloves despite temperatures of around -15 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit). “We don’t waste any of it, we use every bit of it for something. It’s food, we use the sealskin... It’s our way of living.”

Seal products in evidence at the meeting range from the sealskin seats at the territorial legislature, where the G7 ministers will discuss key financial issues, to small sealskin ribbons — shaped like the pink breast-cancer ribbons — that form part of Iqaluit’s media kit.

There’s even an olive green button badge bearing the logo furisgreen.org, pointing to a website sponsored by the Fur Council of Canada.

“Like leather, suede and shearling, fur is a natural product, a true gift of nature,” it says, in a message that’s likely to fall on deaf ears in the environmental crowd.

There is, however, no truth to a rumor that seal meat will be on the menu at the two private meals the ministers will have during their short visit to the Arctic.

Friday’s dinner features Arctic char, an rich, salmon-like fish, and caribou, while lunch on Saturday features more caribou, served after a muskox minestrone.

Additional reporting by Chizu Nomiyama and Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway

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