TORONTO — The growing “sealfie” social media campaign is being criticized for defending Inuit rights that are not, in fact, under attack.
For several weeks, people have been posting photos of themselves wearing seal skin and using the hashtag “sealfie” to protest a $1.5 million donation to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sparked by Ellen DeGeneres’ record-breaking Oscar selfie.
But while both the HSUS and DeGeneres oppose the commercial seal hunt on Canada’s east coast, neither has protested the Inuit right to hunt seals. (Incidentally, the $1.5 million donation to the HSUS was earmarked for dog rescue initiatives.)
Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tried to steer the protest in the right direction in a Facebook post that pointed out: “There has never been a protest against the Inuit for killing seals.”
Heather Sullivan of the Protect Seals campaign at the HSUS told Global News the sealfie campaign is misguided.
“We take no issue with the Inuit hunt,” said Sullivan. “We are only opposed to the commercial hunt.”
That hasn’t stopped people from taking to Twitter to lash out at DeGeneres.
“What you have is a collection of Inuit people complaining that their way of life is under attack and nothing could be farther from the truth,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian division of Humane Society International (HSI).
“The campaign was well intentioned but it’s misguided.”
Aldworth said the Inuit hunt and commercial hunt have been unfairly conflated. “It’s very important to clear this up,” she said. “We don’t oppose the Inuit hunt.”
The sealfie movement appears to be fueled by a three-year-old statement by DeGeneres in which she described the commercial seal hunt as “one of the most atrocious and inhumane acts against animals allowed by any government.”
The comment appeared on her website in a post that encouraged fans to donate to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — an organization that is also not opposed to Inuit seal hunts.
“PETA only targets the commercial slaughter,” he explained.
Last December, Canadian actress Pamela Anderson and The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon — both PETA supporters — called on the Canadian government to end the commercial seal hunt but said native people should be allowed to hunt.
In a press release Monday, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) described the “sealfie” as “a social media movement intended to support and promote awareness about Nunavut’s sustainable and humane seal harvest.”
It goes on to claim “DeGeneres and the Humane Society are opposed to the seal harvest.”
NTI is operating a “sealfie” photo booth in the lobby of its Iqaluit office on April 10 and in a local curling rink on April 11.
“Everyone is encouraged to come to the building wearing sealskin,” reads the release. “NTI staff will take photographs and post them on Facebook and Twitter.”
NTI spokesperson Kerry McCluskey seemed to acknowledge the organization is conflating the unopposed northern hunt with the controversial east coast commercial hunt.
“All Canadian sealers are working together,” she told Global News.
“The whole Canadian hunt is sustainable and humane.”
HSI Canada’s Aldworth said “it’s unfortunate Inuit are defending the commercial seal hunt.”
She said her organization has supported excluding Inuit seal products from the European Union trade ban and campaigned for certification of these goods so consumers know they are supporting a subsistence hunt.