A culture of sealskin
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
The Canadian Arctic is one of the most versatile and resilient landscapes in the world. Covered in snowfall approximately 6 to 7 months of the year (and sometimes even 10 months), it is home to a diverse ecosystem that is intrinsically linked to the culture and traditions of the Inuit.
The Inuit, Canada’s Indigenous peoples, live across Inuit Nunangat. This is a region of Canada comprising Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, and Northern Quebec, as well as Labrador. Nunavut is home to the largest Inuit population in Canada.
With their history tied to the Arctic, the Inuit are stewards of their land. Inuit hunters possess an advanced and sophisticated knowledge of all the flora and fauna in the region, including high and low seasons to ensure that hunting schedules are aligned with the natural rhythm of their environment. Specific animals are only hunted seasonally, giving the animal population the opportunity to replenish during “low” seasons. The modern concept of sustainability in the Arctic has been deeply influenced by the traditional Inuit system of environmental management and preservation.
Traditionally, the Inuit hunted on their land to provide food, clothing and heat for their communities. Even today, caribou and seal are staples in the Inuit diet. The Inuit are mindful of how much they hunt, while also ensuring that they use every part of the animal, leaving no waste.
Seal occupies an important cultural, physical and spiritual place for the Inuit. In addition to being an irreplaceable part of the Inuit diet, seal blubber was traditionally used to light the qulliq, an oil lamp that heated the homes of the Inuit for centuries.
Today the qulliq is lit by Inuit Elders as a symbolic act and a testament to their history. Over the last decade, the vitamin and supplement industry has grown significantly. The Inuit now convert seal blubber into oil to provide Omega-3 supplements.
Inuit use the sealskin to create beautiful parkas, hats, gloves, mitts, boots and a range of other clothing to keep warm in what can sometimes be a very harsh climate. This has been a way of life for the Inuit even before the introduction of colonization. Colonization established the formal market economy, with the fur trade becoming a key industry for Inuit hunters and seamstresses.
Mother and daughter Sedna by Oolooriaq Mike. Pencil crayon drawing.