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The animal-rights movement against sealing and whaling
by Piers Vitebsky
  During the 1970s and 1980s, various environmentalist groups in the industrialised countries of western Europe and North America have mounted campaigns against the hunting of whales and seals. Some of these organisations, such as Greenpeace, accept that Native peoples have a right to the harvesting of animals and to the preservation of their culture. But they often insist that animals should be hunted only in a 'traditional' way, not using high-powered rifles or motor boats. Others, such as the Animal Liberation Front, think only of the animals and argue that they cannot be regarded as 'renewable resources' to be used by people. These people sometimes say that cultures dependent on hunting have no right to survive at all. This entire movement focuses its attention on nature, and especially wildlife, rather than on humanity and science.

Drying sealskin in Greenland.
Another organisation which has affected Native peoples on the coast is the International Whaling Commission. This Commission has the legal power to control the harvesting of whales throughout the world. In 1977, the Commission banned all whaling and refused to recognise the difference between the commercial whaling carried out by countries like Norway and Japan, and the subsistence whaling carried out by Native peoples in order to live and eat. The coastal peoples of Alaska were particularly badly affected and the following year they set up their own organisation, called the Alaska Whaling Commission. This Commission argued that hunting whales was an essential part of their lives and culture. They also did their own research and proved that this would not threaten the whale population overall. The number of whales needed to feed a local community is far smaller than those killed in commercial operations by outsiders.
  Northern peoples roam vast distances across their landscape. It is the land of their ancestors and the land on which they continue to work in all weathers. They have always valued individual independence. They cannot work in factories in the middle of nowhere, and they do not want to exist on social security from their governments in the south. Moreover, their identity as people is closely connected to their relationship with animals. The simple truth is that the peoples of the Arctic cannot exist independently except as they always have done, by living on animals. On the coast they hunt seals and whales and inland they herd reindeer. These are partly for food and partly to buy basic supplies necessary for life today, such as kerosene, medicines, guns, and air fares. From the North, the animal-rights campaign is seen as an attack on the heart of their culture and even on their right to live at all. This attack is made by people who know little about living in the North, are themselves far removed from the world of animals and have the luxury of many choices in how they wish to live themselves. These campaigners insist that animals should be killed only for food, a policy which would leave the indigenous peoples with no money even for medicines; or they use words like 'tradition' and then demand that Native life should conform to these.

Greenlandic fishing and hunting boat.
Native peoples, like everyone else, use the techniques and tools which are available and which work. The hunter at the beginning of section 1 in the overview chapter homeland has chosen to shoot his seal with a rifle hidden rather than with a harpoon as his father might have done, and his wife and children might choose to travel a thousand miles by air in a day rather than by sledge in a fortnight. Why should they not expect to live as comfortably as the people in the south to criticise them? They point out that one oil spill like that of the tanker at Valdez can inflict far greater pain and suffering on surrounding animals than anything the Native hunters can do - and that this suffering is not even necessary to keep anyone alive.
The animal-rights movement against sealing and whaling, by Piers Vitebsky.
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