Nuance as Concept
Aaju Peter is a lawyer, seal skin seamstress and economic activist. She is also a feminist icon who lives city of Nunavut where she is more than happy to let the men go out into the biting cold and hunt for seals while she has a much more difficult work to do and that is to make those in political power in a globalized world understand the concept of nuance.
Home is Canada’s Baffin Island that is twice the size of Britain with an endless view of snow and ice. Filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, along with Aaju, her family and her community wants to completely re-think a certain kind of activism in the village she grew up.
Hunting seals for their meat, skins, and other harvested products is the principle industry and trade on Baffin Island. The community eats seal meat as a primary source of food; there are no vegans north of the treeline. And 40 years of zealous animal rights, activism has made towns become a kind of collateral damage; depression, suicide and poverty thrive when a people have their livelihood taken away.
Arnaquq-Baril convincingly argues that he people need to be able to retail the skins of the animals they eat to pay for the fuel to hunt and live with dignity in the 21st century. Seal bans in the marketplaces of the European Union put a stigma on the product that in essence wipes out its value and utility.
“Angry Inuk” follows the two women and their small band of anti-activist activists for eight years as they go to Brussels, Toronto, and Copenhagen in an attempt to engage with both the European Union politicians and representatives of various activist conglomerates that have grown dependant on images and ideas that are misleading. Along the way, they both explain the subtle way that Inuit express anger and how it contrasts to western outrage.
The most effective segments of the film allow the audience to go into the intimacies of their own lives. Particularly visual is Arnaquq-Baril, with her toddler son eating meat fresh off a carcass, or a family navigating a rowboat through large, fast moving chunks of ice on the Arctic Sea. The women know their data, social media skills in order to share information responsibly but these modern Inuit are but a few thousand people among billions of others, yet they have a voice.
We see how a culture with an understated anger confronts a group that is exactly their opposite. Arnaquq-Baril has no tolerance for nonsense and she refuses to sit silently from the sidelines. Thank goodness for that. Her anger over the misrepresentations of seal hunting s perpetuated by the media and environmental activist groups nearly reaches a boiling point, but she manages to stay cool as she fights against a campaign that has had devastating effects on her people. We see the perfectly humane act of killing, gutting, and preparing the seal, not just for its fur, but also for the rich and tasty meats that sustain the community. The film has a counterargument for any false image one has seen before.
Arnaquq-Baril plays the dual roles of subject and filmmaker as she takes a close, participatory approach to the women and men of her community and invites them to share their stories about the economic necessities entailed within seal hunting. Aaju Peter central ally in the fight and is a strong-willed seal hunt advocate and lawyer who depends on the sealskins for her livelihood. She demonstrates the art of her seamstress craft, which hardly yields the price it deserves for the effort it takes to produce her clothing and she states the importance of preserving the practice of seal hunting. It’s a matter of sustainability, both on a practical level for basic survival and on a cultural level as the necessary hunt for seals preserves a way of life in the face of cultural erosion.
On one hand, the film presents the easy-going Inuit with their understated anger and their conscious in using every bit of the seals, from their pelts to their innards. On the other hand, the film shows the irate “southerners” with the slogans, campaigns, and ignorance to the cause against which they wage war. One side wants to have a conversation; the other team wants a diatribe. Implicit within the seal hunt debate is the imposition of one culture upon another within the history of colonizing Inuit and Indigenous communities.
What most animal rights organizations fail to acknowledge is how the banning of seal trading cripples the Inuit population that relies on it as one of their sole sources of monetary gain. While most animal rights organizations have no problems with “subsistence hunting” for food, they get nervous and do not speak whenever asked as to why the Inuit should be punished for the hunting and sale of an animal that was never an endangered species to begin with.
There’s a lot to see in “Angry Inuk”. This film is one of rage at a long gestating argument that never gets resolved. As such, her film, is impassioned and sometimes contains the kind of circular thinking that people get when righteously angry about a situation.
When we consider the economy of living near the Arctic Circle and combine that with the millions in resources groups like Greenpeace, PETA, and others get from placing images of crying seals on their shirts, it’s easy to understand why such rage is justified on the part of the Inuit.