Pictured (left to right): Rowena House, Executive Director (Craft Council Of Newfoundland and Labrador), Tia Kullualik and Grace Metuq, Throat Singers (Students of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut), the Honourable Anthony Rota, M.P. (Speaker of the House of Commons), Lori Idlout, M.P. (Nunavut). May 2023.
Understanding Seal Products
Over millennia, Indigenous and coastal communities have survived using cultural knowledge to sustain ecosystemic harmony, nourishment and economic growth from seal products. However, these traditional methods, including sealskin craft, are being undersupported due to contemporary practices as society moves to modernity.
National Seal Products Day
The Canadian Crafts Federation recently attended the National Seal Products Day in Ottawa, Ontario. In 2017, May 20th became National Seal Products Day to recognize the importance of seal hunting in Canada. Since then, the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador has led the annual event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. In the past, events included Fashion shows on and off the Hill, dinners, sales, and an exhibition at the National Arts Centre meetings and showcases of many talented chefs serving Seal Meat. This year, along with many partners such as Canadian Seal Products and Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs, the event showcased fur accessories by artists, seal oil omega-3 products, displays from Canadian Seal Products vendors and many more.
“It was a way for us to engage the politicians at the time about the importance of the seal hunt and how important it was to the communities in the north. It is a lifeline for not only warmth and tradition but for food and craft supplies.”Rowena House, Craft Council of NL
Sealskin is a Sustainable Practice
Naturally warm and waterproof, seal skin is a responsible craft practice passed down for generations. Inuit, Indigenous, and other northern and coastal communities relied on seal fur and leather to shield themselves from the harsh elements. You can contribute to sustainable practices and support ethical manufacturing by choosing locally sourced sealskin products. The economic benefits of supporting small-scale artists and makers boost self-sufficiency, economic growth and tourism, and build connections to historical knowledge.
Sealskin is a Craft at Risk
In 2021, Heritage NL conducted a Craft at Risk study in the region. Sealskin appeared on the Endangered list, making it vulnerable to extinction if the next generation cannot learn the knowledge to carry the traditions.
“Despite growing up immersed in Salliqmiut Inuvialuit culture, I didn’t often have traditional clothes or an opportunity to wear such a beautiful garment until I was well into adulthood.”Taalrumiq
Support Artists Using Sealskin
Seal harvest aims to use all parts of the animal, including its meat, oil, and pelt. Sealskin is a durable and biodegradable material for various traditional and contemporary fine craft, art, and fashion. To support artists who use sealskin, here are some ways to advocate for them:
Connect to Artists
Follow artists and makers on social media and subscribe to their newsletters to learn more about their processes and cultural connection to seal skin. Browse the Craft Council of NL, NWT Arts and the Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs artists directories. Use those site’s search functions for “seal,” and you’ll find artists like Sherry Buckle-Turnbull, Hovak Johnston, and Cheryl Fennell.
“The influencers, who are on TikTok and have social media platforms and a huge following, become spokespeople for the use of seal and the sustainable use of seal, and the cultural aspect of it,”Johanna Tiemessen, the NWT government’s manager of arts programming and traditional economy
Reduce Reliance on Mass-Produced Products
Consider buying from local artists instead of relying solely on mass-produced products. Plan ahead and budget accordingly.
“When I see sealskin, I see an ethical and sustainable economy that feeds people”Arnaquq-Baril in Angry Inuk
Uplift Traditional Knowledge.
Share what you’ve learned about the cultural, environmental, and economic significance of sealing to uplift generative knowledge.
“We keep the pelts and there’s an educational program that shows younger people with elders how to clean the skins, how to tan it, how to sew.”Yoanis Menge
Seal products are estimated to contribute about $1 million to Nunavut’s annual economy.