Seals part of our lives, says Nunavut designer
Fur trade show in town; Transplanted Dane says he's ashamed to be from Europe after votehttp://www.montrealgazette.com/Seals+part+lives+says+Nunavut+designer/1567504/story.html
At Montreal's Naffem luxury outerwear show yesterday, Karliin Aariak, a graduate of Nunavut Arctic College, shows off a seal fur coat she designed. "The (EU) ban only means we have to scream louder to let people know how important it is to us," Aariak said.
Photograph by: JOHN KENNEY, THE GAZETTE, The Gazette
Karliin Aariak stopped laughing for a few minutes yesterday when informed of the European Parliament's overwhelming vote banning seal products across its 27 nations.
"Oh, no,'' said the 30-year-old graduate of Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. She was in Montreal for NAFFEM, the annual fur trade show that draws hundreds, perhaps thousands, of buyers, sellers and producers of everything from mink to beaver and chinchilla.
By nature gleeful, Aariak had plenty more to be happy about at the fur show: She took first prize in a student competition sponsored by the Fur Council of Canada. Her winning design: a cropped seal jacket with a dramatic collar. Light, modern and urban, the jacket was one of three winning seal designs in the contest.
The European decision means educating the public is essential, said Aariak, daughter of Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak. "Education of what our culture is and why it's so important to sustain our tradition, and use the seal sustainably, environmentally, ethically.
"The ban only means we have to scream louder to let people know how important it is to us."
She explained that the skin of the seal is a secondary element for her people, the Inuit.
"We have a very intimate relationship with the seal.'' Aariak said. "We hunt it, we eat it, we use the fat traditionally for lighting the qulliq, which was used to cook, for heat, for light. We use the bones for entertainment."
The qulliq, she said, is a traditional lamp now used ceremonially.
How does it taste? That depends on where it lives and what it feeds on, Aariak said: "Rich and oily depending on how you cook it - a fishier version of wild meat."
And it's only natural to use the sealskin for warmth in a cold climate, she added.
Aariak's response to the ban, which could cost the Canadian sealing industry $2.4 million annually, was mild compared with that of others at the fur trade show.
Michael Nielsen of the North Atlantic Fur Group said he was ashamed to be European in the wake of the ban. A Dane, Nielsen moved to Newfoundland last summer from Greenland to develop the seal business there.
"I think it's cultural arrogance,'' Nielsen said, noting seal are known to deplete fish stocks.
"In Greenland, most seals are eaten. In Newfoundland, everybody loves seal."
Nielsen's booth at Place Bonaventure, where the show is held, was hopping with buyers for his luxury products, including sealskin gloves, handbags, wallets and boots, as well as spectacularly glossy parkas trimmed with fox.
The difficult economy was taking some toll on participants at the show, but Nielsen said the major markets for seal are Russia, Ukraine, Korea and China. The Russian economy has taken a big hit, with the devaluation of the ruble, he added. But like others at the show, he remained optimistic.
"I'm sure when they get out in the shops, we'll get plenty of reorders.''
"It's stupid,'' Chicoutimi buyer Hélène Bergeron said of the seal ban.
Her associate, Gratien Maltais, said: "We're in a northern climate. We use this clothing. We need it.'' The pair bought seal accessories from North Atlantic Fur Group.
Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president of the Fur Council of Canada, said Canada and the sealing industry want to create international humane hunting standards, as was done for trapping in 1997.
About 80 per cent of the seals taken are shot, he added, and the taking of white coat seal pups was banned in 1987.
Europe is a minor market for seal, Herscovici said, and the likely effect of the ban will be to further lower prices for skins, already down by perhaps 50 per cent from last year, partly the result of the difficult economy.
The trade show, which wrapped up yesterday, was about two-thirds its usual size, with many Americans and Russians affected by the economy opting out this year.
Herscovici admitted business was not booming, but said many vendors were pleasantly surprised.
"Expectations were low, but it's not bad,'' he said.