Paula Cobo-Guevara: Displacement: A molecular map of discomforts
Amber Hickey: Europeans are so far removed from who we are as a people
Mauvais Troupe: LA ZAD / THE ZONE TO DEFEND
Rachel O'Reilly & Danny Butt: Infrastructures of Autonomy on the Professional Frontier: ‘Art and the
Boycott of/as Art
Europeans are so far removed from who we are as a
Project intro: For the past several years, I have been interviewing artists and activists who are working in support of environmental justice and Indigenous self-determination. During this process, I quickly realized that these interviews should be published rather than shoveled into the appendix of my dissertation. I’m currently considering how best to share them – online, in a book, or both, and discussing the options with those whom I interviewed. I hope that this project will be a resource that gives folks a more nuanced understanding of Indigenous perspectives. For those of us who are settlers on Turtle Island, I hope having access to these interviews will help to overthrow stereotypes that still prevail, especially those regarding dominant notions of conservation, sovereignty, and allyship. For the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, Inuit Nunangat, and beyond, I hope this project serves as a tool to connect folks across related struggles. If you would like to contribute to this project, please reach out at email@example.com.
This excerpt provides a glimpse into the project:
1. AAJU PETER
I met pro seal hunt activist, lawyer, and sealskin seamstress Aaju Peter in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in August 2016. After I returned to Brooklyn later that month, we had a long conversation about colonial legacies, mental health, discrimination, Inuit sovereignty, art, and how this all relates to the Inuit seal hunt. The following is an excerpt of that conversation. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Aaju: Anti sealing just cut our men down to nothing. About 5 years ago, we were in the Northern part of Greenland on a tourist ship that I sailed with. We entered a traditional sod house, and in there was an older Greenlandic woman who had a doll. The doll was dressed in all seal skin, and I told her, “I want to buy that.” And it was Greenlandically dressed. She had never said yes to anybody wanting to buy it, but nobody can say no to me!
And she said, “you know, when I was making those” — her husband had recently passed away — “when I was sewing in sealskin, he would say” — and he was a Greenlandic Inuit hunter — “why do you keep making those? The whole world is against it. Stop making those.” Even he was affected. Hunters were so negatively affected by all the anti-sealing and anti-hunting that was going on. Even he was affected by it. And it just echoed what we had already seen: our hunters’ inability to pass on the tradition, and be proud of it. And I’m happy to say, because back then it did put a really bad taste in the mouth of the hunters, but today I am happy to say it has become more of a pride. And we continue our tradition and we continue our practices. And when I do the seal celebration in Iqaluit, we have hundreds of people coming out, so proud of wearing seal and so proud of their culture.
Amber: Can you tell me more about the seal celebration, and when that happens?
Aaju: In 2007, after I was in Europe … oh, Europeans are so far removed from who we are as a people, and what we do. When I entered the ring of Greenpeace — the anti-sealing demonstration—, a young guy who was holding a poster said to me “well, why don’t you guys just grow vegetables?” And secondly, when that wasn’t possible, he said, “well why don’t you all just move here?” And I said “Eeh, no thank you. Because once our ice melts, your land is going to be under water. So I don’t think I want to move to Holland.” It is that whole detachment, not understanding what you’re fighting for. All you’re seeing is free range seals being caught, and not connecting the fact that you’re living on cows and pigs and chicken that are grown, that are in horrible living conditions and force fed, and you are trying to dictate to us how we should live. That goes back to sovereignty, the notion of your own right as an Indigenous people, to continue how you live. What this whole anti-sealing movement was doing was imposing on how we should conduct ourselves. According to the idea that Europeans have of Inuit running around on the ice. So, the exemption — I’m sorry, I’m covering a whole bunch of areas here.
Amber: No, it’s great. Thank you.
Aaju: So the exemption stated, the Inuit exemption — which by the way has not worked for six years still — we haven’t been able to sell one skin, even with the exemption. The exemption stated that we had to hunt sustainably, in a traditional way. And I kid you not, the Europeans wanted to dictate what was “traditional,” meaning you couldn’t use snow machines, you couldn’t use rifles. We actually had to go out on dog teams for day and days and days, catch one seal and come back…These Europeans don’t realize that we live in a modern society, that we work five days a week, and the only time we get is a few hours in a day or the weekend to hunt. And that total ignorance, that whole colonial attitude toward Inuit and how Inuit should be hunting, they absolutely refuse, and Canada refuses to acknowledge that Inuit are the largest commercial seal hunters in Canada, for instance.
Aaju: When animal rights groups started banning seal and killing seals, there were 1.5 million harp seals in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. When the US put in place the Marine Mammal Protection act in ’72, there were 1.5 million harp seals. But today, you’re talking about environmental activism and sustainability. Today we have between 10 and 14 million harp seals, and it is not sustainable. They consume about 13,000-19,000 pounds of fish each per year, so you can imagine the amount of destruction that is happening. It is really not sustainable. And that’s what people don’t understand. People think that an unlimited number of any species is better. Unfortunately, that is an incorrect view of the environment and what is sustainable.