Gov. Gen. eats slaughtered seal's raw heart to show support for seal hunt
Governor General Michaelle Jean eats the heart of a seal during a community feast in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut on Monday May 25, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alex Panetta, THE CANADIAN PRESShttp://www.journalpioneer.com/index.cfm?pid=1632&cpcat=national&stry=251983820
RANKIN INLET, Nunavut - On the first day of her trip to the Arctic Michaelle Jean gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it.
Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered around as the Governor General made a gesture of solidarity with the country's beleagured seal hunters.
Jean knelt above a pair of carcasses and used a traditional blade to slice the meat off the skin.
After repeated, vigorous cuts through the flesh the Queen's representative turned to the woman beside her and asked enthusiastically: "Could I try the heart?"
Afterward Jean grabbed a tissue to wipe clean her blood-soaked fingers, and explained her gesture of solidarity with the region's Inuit hunters.
She expressed her dismay that anyone would call their eons-old, traditional hunting practices inhumane.
She gestured to the hundreds of people in a packed arena and noted that they would all be fed by the meat laid out on a tarp on the floor.
The European Union has voted to impose a ban on seal products and it will come into effect once adopted by national parliaments.
Locals here warn it will be one more shock to a region that already suffers from chronic economic woes and a staggering array of social problems.
Jean called the practice an ancient cultural ritual that, she said, is practised humanely.
The locals explained that they don't use the hooked hakapiks that have faced such bitter criticism from environmentalists.
They said they use guns or harpoons, and can't understand why their industry is considered less humane than cattle farming.
Two young men had walked into the crowded room to drop the furry seal carcasses on the floor while the Governor General was chatting with local leaders.
The scene was reminiscent - if far bloodier - than the first day of Jean's last trip to the Arctic.
On that occasion she was tossed metres into the air on a blanket in a demonstration of traditional hunting practices.
It was an unconventional end to a day that began with a far more conventional message: the value of an education.
After landing on a frosty airstrip, Jean delivered a speech at a high-school gymnasium, where she asked students to speak about their aspirations.
"The reason I'm here is I really want people down south to know what life is like here," Jean said. "Development in the North cannot happen without you. It has to be about you."
Jean is making an unusually forceful pitch for the federal government to help build a university in the North so that more Inuit share in economic growth in the region.
Ottawa has said it's not looking to build a university in the Arctic soon. The Conservatives say they've increased funding for colleges in the area and donated to an international project to improve school programs in different Arctic countries.
But Jean says the region needs more. She points to the University of Tromso, which serves Norway's Sami aboriginals, as an inspiration for Canada.
Tromso's medicine, law and geology faculties are the kind of programs, she says, that could inspire more Canadian Inuit to pursue an education. The high school graduation rate in Nunavut is the lowest in Canada, at a mere 25 per cent.
With so few university students in the North, Jean suggests opening up the school to students throughout Canada and breaking it up into smaller satellite campuses throughout the Arctic.
Jean is spending a week in the region, mostly in Nunavut to celebrate the territory's 10th anniversary. As she approaches the final year of her five-year mandate, Jean says she's not sure whether she'll make it back before her term expires.
She expressed uncertainty when asked whether it would be her last trip there as Governor General.
"It could be," Jean said in an interview. "I hope not. Of course, as time goes by I start thinking about that."