by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services
NNSL (Feb 17/97) - Inuit leaders say their people have been tarnished by graphic video of cruelty committed during last year's Newfoundland seal hunt.
Bloody scenes of seals being savagely beaten and tortured have been given national news exposure. The scenes were taped during the Newfoundland seal hunt, part of 15 hours of video shot for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Posing as a crew from an American hunting show, IFAW investigators spent eight days on four vessels involved in last year's hunt.
The videotape aired the day before an Inuit Tapirisat of Canada environment workshop, last Tuesday.
"Inuit in attendance agreed that the ongoing media sensationalism of seal harvesting is a direct threat to the traditional Inuit way of life," said ITC officials in a press release.
IFAW is an international organization committed to ending the Newfoundland and Norwegian offshore seal hunts.
The video footage documented 144 violations of Canada's marine mammal regulations and other rules that apply to the seal hunt, said IFAW officials.
"IFAW has never campaigned against true subsistence hunting by Inuit people," said Rick Smith, the organization's Canadian director.
Smith said the Inuit Tapirisat contention that high rates of Inuit suicide are linked to depressed sealskin prices trivializes the complexity of problems faced by Inuit.
Last October the International Circumpolar Commission used an ITC study linking suicide to seal prices in its opposition to IFAW's second bid to join the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The IFAW was again unsuccessful.
"Some of the publications they put out at that time linked our organization to increases in Inuit suicide, and I just think that was (an) incredibly irresponsible thing for them to do," Smith said.
Inuit MLAs said last week that the video depicted practices as repugnant to Inuit seal hunters as they are to most Canadians.
"I know that the film was made in such a way as to only display the few bad hunters," said Aivilik MLA Manitok Thompson on Tuesday.
She noted Inuit culture is based on respect for animals, saying the respect is handed down from generation to generation.
"It is taboo in our traditional laws to torture or abuse any living thing, from an insect to a polar bear or whale," said Thompson.
Thompson's comments were echoed by High Arctic MLA Levi Barnabas and Baffin Central MLA Tommy Enuaraq, both of whom hunt seal.
Barnabas said that although Inuit hunters could make more money killing seals only for their skins, they take only as many as they and their families can eat.