Canadian Gov. Gen. eats slaughtered seal's raw heart to show support for seal hunt
Alex Panetta, The Canadian Press
RANKIN INLET, Nunavut - On the first day of her trip to the Arctic Michaelle Jean gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it.
Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered around as the Governor General made a gesture of solidarity with the country's beleaguered seal hunters.
Jean knelt above a pair of carcasses and used a traditional blade to slice the meat off the skin.
After repeated, vigorous cuts 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 crimson chuck of seal-ticker, she tucked it into her mouth, swallowed it, and turned to her daughter to say it tasted good.
Afterward Jean grabbed a tissue to wipe her blood-soaked fingers, and explained her gesture of solidarity with the region's Inuit hunters.
She expressed her dismay that anyone would call their eons-old, traditional hunting practices inhumane.
She gestured to the hundreds of people in a packed arena and noted that they would all be fed by the meat laid out on a tarp on the floor.
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 including rock legend Paul McCartney to get their message across that the Canadian hunt, the largest in the world, is cruel and unsustainable.
The European Union bill still needs the backing of EU governments. But officials say that's only a formality since national envoys have already endorsed the legislation.
The ban, expected to take effect in October, 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 called the practice an ancient cultural ritual that, she said, is practised humanely.
She also lauded the taste and 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.
Two young men had walked into the crowded room to drop the furry seal carcasses 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.
It was an unconventional end to a day that began with a far more conventional message: the value of an education.
Jean is making an unusually forceful pitch for the federal government to help build a university in the North so that more Inuit share in economic growth in the region.
Ottawa has said it's not looking to build a university in the Arctic soon. The Conservatives say they've increased funding for colleges in the area and donated to an international project to improve school programs in different Arctic countries.
But Jean says the region needs more. She points to the University of Tromso, which serves Norway's Sami aboriginals, as an inspiration for Canada.
Tromso's medicine, law and geology faculties are the kind of programs, she says, that could inspire more Canadian Inuit to pursue an education. The high school graduation rate in
Nunavut is the lowest in Canada, at a mere 25 per cent.
With so few university students in the North, Jean suggests opening up the school to students throughout Canada and breaking it up into smaller satellite campuses throughout the Arctic.
Several town councillors applauded the Governor General at a round-table meeting for speaking up in favour of the idea.
"I am totally convinced that this kind of infrastructure would be something worth considering," Jean told them. "It's very important for those young people to see that (a degree) is possible, that it is accessible, not too far away from where they are.
"I was able to see what an incredible tool for development that was (in Norway)."
Earlier in the day Jean delivered a speech at a high-school gymnasium, where she asked students to speak about their aspirations.
"The reason I'm here is I really want people down south to know what life is like here," Jean said. "Development in the North cannot happen without you. It has to be about you."
Jean handed out achievement awards and invited a recipient - Adine Sandy - to describe her dreams. The teenager remained tongue-tied while an auditorium full of classmates cheered her on. Eventually, she shyly whispered in the Governor General's ear that she wanted to study management and run a business.
Jean reached around to caress the baby swaddled on the teenager's back.
Jean's own daughter, Marie-Eden, is taking a week off school to see the Arctic. She had never made a Northern visit before, and got a quick introduction to the region's less-than-balmy temperatures.
The delegation was greeted by snow flurries and sub-zero temperatures, and Marie-Eden wrapped a red scarf around her face to ward off the whistling wind.
The Governor General later introduced her daughter to three local children who scaled a rocky hill to join the delegation as it visited a lookout point.
Jean also heard from municipal officials eager to see a road construction project get underway. The federal government is funding one-third of a feasibility study for a road that would connect the isolated region to Manitoba.
The project would cost an estimated $3 billion and drastically reduce the cost of shipping in the region, lowering the price tag on everything from fresh food to extracted minerals that currently must be moved by plane or boat.
"It's $2,800 for a plane ticket to Winnipeg," said mayor John Hickes. "It would be $300 for gas (by road). You do the math."
Jean is spending a week in the region, mostly in Nunavut to celebrate the territory's 10th anniversary. As she approaches the final year of her five-year mandate, Jean said she's not sure whether she'll make it back before her term expires.
She expressed uncertainty when asked whether it would be her last trip there as Governor General.
"It could be," Jean said in an interview. "I hope not. Of course, as time goes by I start thinking about that."
Gov. Gen. eats slaughtered seal's raw heart
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