Why Inuit seal hunt supporters are posting #SEALFIE pics

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: If the goats are so smart, they'll be taking selfies next. Seriously though, our final story today is about one particular selfie that involves an animal. It's called a "sealfie" and is part of a campaign on twitter where people take photos of themselves wearing seal skin. Sounds like something that would upset animal rights activists and it does. But it's actually intended to support the way of life native Inuits in Canada. Supporters say that way of life is under attack from groups like the Humane Society and PITA. Tanya Tagaq is a well known Inuit musician and it was when she posted a picture of her baby next to a dead seal near her hometown of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, that the campaign suddenly caught a lot of people's attention.

Tanya Tagaq is on tour right now and joins us from London. I have to say Tanya, the picture of your baby, all cute and swaddled up in Winter clothes laid out next to this dead seal, it's kind of shocking. I didn't know what to make of it, so explain why you did it.

Tanya Tagaq: Not for shock value at all. For us, the way we've grown up up there, we're used to our meat actually coming from somewhere, it's not just from a package in the grocery store and it just doesn't appear in front of you like in a restaurant. So for us it wasn't shocking at all, it actually was received in the Inuit community as really cute, so I was very surprised to have this negative backlash because I find it really contradictory that there's huge slaughterhouses everywhere and all of a sudden everyone is up in arms just because you can see the animal and what it was like before it was processed.

Werman: For this position that you've taken, it's more underscoring a way of life than a position, you've received death threats?

Tagaq: Yes. I've had people photoshop images of my baby being killed and skinned. I've had people tell me I don't deserve to breath. There's always just some crazy out there so I try not to focus too much on those crazy people and try to focus on people that want to have a positive dialogue surrounding this issue.

Werman: For people, Tanya, who have a kneejerk reaction to "killing seals," how do you start to raise awareness about the crucial differences between subsistence sealing and commercial sealing?

Tagaq: First of all, we wouldn't be here without seals. We'd be dead, we'd die without the animals up there. We're living not off the land, we're living on the land, we're part of it and it's part of the ecosystem. It's, in effect, like telling a wolf or a bear not to eat.

Werman: Do you support commercial sealing?

Tagaq: I support killing animals if you're going to eat them. I do not support anybody killing anything for sport or just for the furs. I don't think that's right.

Werman: A lot of Americans think seal hunting and they immediately think seals getting clubbed. How do Inuits kill the seals?

Tagaq: What a lot of people don't understand, I've also just gotten criticism from someone, saying I was bludgeoning a fish. It's funny, take a fish out of the water, what do you want me to do with it? Strangle it or let it flop to death? No, you hit it on the head to kill it. Right now we use rifles, which are way easier and it's a quick death.

Werman: Just to be clear, this is a legal practice in Canada, correct?

Tagaq: Yes, for us.

Werman: For Aboriginal people in Canada, it is legal?

Tagaq: It's totally legal, yes, and it better stay that way because that's our food.

Werman: Inuit vocalist Tanya Tagaq talking about her support for the sealfie campaign on Twitter. Thanks very much.

Tagaq: You're welcome.

Werman: The truly incredible and unique voice of Tanya Tagaq there. If you want to see that sealfie of Tagaq's child lying next to a dead seal, we have it at PRI.org. Mind you, it's not for everyone. The World's theme music was composed by Eric Goldberg. From our studios at WGBH in Boston, I'm Marco Werman. Have a great weekend.