A resilient material, sealskin is used across Northern Canada in fashion and design. However, it is a tumultuous industry, despite its significance to Canada's cultural fabric. A major shift in attitudes towards sealskin came in 1983 when Greenpeace lobbied to ban all commercial harp pup sealskin exports. However, seal skin from ringed and adult harp seals inadvertently became attached to the stigma associated with this campaign. Inuit hunters, who generally hunted ringed and adult harp seal, suffered as a result. Their industry was completely decimated as most people were ignorant of the difference between the Inuit subsistence seal hunt and the commercial hunt.
In 2015, the European Union (EU) recognised the seal hunt as part “of the socio-economy, culture and identity of the Inuit and other Indigenous communities.” This recognition came with a seal-ban amendment titled “Inuit Exception.” It allowed seal products that resulted from traditional Indigenous seal hunts into the EU, opening the potential for seal skin to enter the European market.
The Inuit have criticized European and Western governments, as well as activists for creating environmental policies that only reflect Western worldviews and urban communities. Indigenous men and women living in remote and extreme climates often live off of the resources provided by their land.
Indigenous, particularly, Inuit environmentalists have advocated for a more inclusive understanding of “sustainability,” one that incorporates Indigenous environmental management and practices. For the Inuit, the sealskin industry is not only connected to their culture, but also their economic well-being, as many hunters look to the sale of their sealskin to make a living.
The Canadian sealskin industry has grown into an expansive business connected to fashion and design. Purchasing sealskin that is certified by the Government of Nunavut ensures that designers and seamstresses are working with skin that was hunted by Inuit hunters. This recognition is crucial to sustaining the Inuit seal industry.