In March 2014, Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagaq posted a “sealfie” of her infant daughter lying next to a seal that Tagaq’s family had killed near Cambridge Bay; the outraged response included death threats, a photoshopped image of her baby being skinned, and a petition to have Tagaq’s child taken from her. In her personal, reactivist National Film Board documentary Angry Inuk, director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril asks—how does a culture with an understated anger fight against misinformers so outraged and outspoken? The film itself is one answer.
Arnaquq-Baril goes seal hunting in Kimmirut with her relatives before showing us, in one home after another, the animal cut up with ulus or its skin softened by feet or teeth. She then tracks back to 1983, when Europe’s seal-products ban, spearheaded by campaigns focussed on white-coat harp seal pups (never sold by Inuit), sunk the market. That launched an economic depression (the majority of seal hunters worldwide are Aboriginal). Suicide rates climbed higher; an Inuk hunting for his livelihood, like Lasaloosie, suddenly found it “very expensive to survive.”
The landscape, so vast and white beneath an often glaring sun, snaps and bites back here—this is the “context,” the truth of home and native land for Aaju Peter, working with dyed sealskin, or children sledding down hills on the material, or hunters kept afloat by natural fur if they fall through the North’s softer and softer ice. That sun is the light shining back at supposedly enlightened, mostly white Europeans, presuming what’s best for Arctic peoples.
Arnaquq-Baril and others, trying to overturn another ban in 2009, call the hunt-opponents “animal groups” or “animalists;” the phrasing seems apt—groups from urban areas far away put poster-cute animals (hundreds of white baby seal dolls are handed out to EU voters in Strasbourg in 2009) above people trying to live off an economically and culturally vital tradition that’s centuries old. Relegating hunters to some bloody, dated past, these activists pretend that Northern First Nations people—more stewards of the land and its wildlife than any outsider—are “frozen in time or untouched by the modern economy.”
Angry Inuk shoots back.