RANKIN INLET, Nunavut—First she gutted it. Then she had the bleeding heart pulled out of its furry, flabby carcass.
Finally, she swallowed a slice of the mammal’s oozing organ.
And when it was all over, Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean wiped the blood of a freshly-slaughtered seal off her crimson-spattered fingertips.
The Governor General made a graphic gesture of solidarity with the country’s beleaguered seal hunters on the first day of a week-long Arctic visit yesterday.
Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered around as Jean knelt above a pair of carcasses and used a traditional ulu blade to slice the meat off the skin.
After repeated, vigorous slashes through the flesh, the Queen’s representative turned to the woman beside her and asked enthusiastically: “Could I try the heart?”
Within seconds, Jean was holding a dripping chunk of seal-ticker, which she tucked into her mouth, swallowed whole, and turned to her daughter to say it tasted good.
Jean grabbed a tissue to wipe her blood-soaked fingers, and explained her gesture. She expressed dismay that anyone would characterize the Inuit’s eons-old, traditional hunting practices as inhumane.
Jean gestured to the hundreds of people in a packed arena and noted they all would be fed by the meat laid out on a tarp on the floor.
“It was absolutely delicious,” Jean said. ”These are ancient practices that are part of a way of life.
“If you can’t understand that, you’re completely missing the reality of life here.”
The European Union voted earlier this month to impose a ban on seal products.
For years, animal rights groups have intensely lobbied European politicians to implement a ban. At times they enlisted the support of celebrities like rock legend Paul McCartney in their cause.
The European Union bill still needs the backing of EU governments, which could be a mere formality since national envoys already have endorsed the legislation.
Expected to take effect in October, the ban would apply to all products and processed goods derived from seals, including fur, meat, oil blubber, and even omega-3 pills made from seal oil.
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 said the hunt is practised responsibly. She also lauded the nutritional quality of her snack.
“It’s like sushi,” she said. “And it’s very rich in protein.”
The locals expressed their wish more outsiders would see things that way.
They 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.
One community leader pegged the value of seals at 20 percent of his area’s economic activity.
“It’s hard to say how much will be lost because of this—because it’s early,” said Paul Kaludjak, head of the agency implementing Nunavut’s land claims agreement.
“We’ll find out in a matter of years.”
Two young men had walked into the crowded room to drop the seal bodies 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.