A Taste of the Arctic showcases gourmet Inuit foods in Ottawa
Several hundred guests eat seal, and wear it too
OTTAWA — A sea of sealskin and high heels took over the lobby of the National Arts Centre April 7 as members of Parliament, senators, Nunavut MLAs and lovers of northern food and culture gathered for the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s fourth annual Taste of the Arctic.
Mingling was at a premium near the gourmet food tables where chefs cooked and prepared seal martinis, Arctic clam chowder, turbot fish and chips, pulled hare on bannock, and caribou meatballs.
About 200 people showed up, many wearing sealskin shawls, vests, ties, kamiks and pins.
And those who didn’t have any skin could borrow some at ITK’s #sealfie photo booth set up to snap pictures of guests wearing sealskin which the organization tweeted throughout the night.
The “sealfie” is a play on selfie, a picture you take of yourself, usually with a camera on your phone.
Ever since talk show host Ellen DeGeneres snapped a selfie with some movie stars at the Oscars March 2 and donated the $1.5 million she raised through the photo to the anti-sealing Humane Society of the United States, supporters of the seal hunt have been tweeting photos of themselves — “sealfies” — wearing sealskin.
The protest continued Monday night — albeit in a jovial, well-dressed way — as musicians, politicians, Inuit students and even the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper, got into the spirit donning luxurious modern sealskin coats on loan from the Nunavut government and Nunavik Creations.
Terry Audla, ITK president, said he was pleased to see so many people coming out to enjoy gourmet Arctic foods along with Inuit music and entertainment.
But at a time when ITK is heading the charge against food insecurity in the north, the $199 a ticket event, and the copious array of succulent country foods, felt a bit like conspicuous consumption.
Audla agreed it might appear unseemly but it is a fundraiser and sometimes, he said, the only way you can get policy and decision makers together is to offer a little glamour and make it easy for them to attend.
“If we can bring more people who have decision-making power with respect to legislation when it comes to the lack of infrastructure and the lack of employment opportunities, the high drop-out rates, at least this way, they’ll have an idea of who we are. And hopefully it comes back a hundred-fold with respect to bringing more dollars and education to the issue,” Audla said.
“I grew up in a home where food security was an issue. I remember opening the door to the fridge and seeing nothing. This is an event that starts people thinking, and that’s all we want: exposure. For too long, we haven’t had the exposure that we deserve. And this is one event that gets us that.”
Indeed, the event attracted a few well-known decision-makers including Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt, Justice Minister Peter MacKay — who brought his one-year-old son Kian — Senator Dennis Patterson and at least two Nunavut MLAs, George Hickes and Monica Ell.
Hickes said he came to Ottawa to attend the event and took the opportunity to set up some meetings in Ottawa, which he did not disclose.
He said the event offered an ideal chance to get non-Inuit and southerners to actually try on seal skin, to see how it feels and to learn about how seals are caught, eaten and used for fashion in a sustainable way.
Sure, the spread might seem a little rich considering families are going hungry in the North but, like Audla said, sometimes you have to dress it up to attract the right crowds.
“There’s a lot of money expended here, it’s true. There’s seal in fancy martini glasses. But if it brings exposure to the issue, then fine. The more attention we can draw to it, the better. We need to have some of the people in this room really understand where we’re coming from,” Hickes said.
“I’m here in a suit at a fancy event in Ottawa. Most of the families in Nunavut can’t afford to do that. That’s why I appreciate the role I’m in. I can come down and do my best to give a voice to the average family.
“I can sit down across a fire at a hunting camp or I can sit down at a table in a board room with a bunch of CEOs and know I can get my message across.”
The evening’s entertainment included artists from all four Inuit regions: The Jerry Cans from Nunavut, Beatrice Deer from Nunavik, The Sundogs from Nunatsiavut and Leanne Goose from the Inuvialuit region.
Proceeds from the night will go toward the cost of the 2014 Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly meeting in Inuvik July 21-24, the first time the event has been held in Canada since 2002.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been named the “honourary patron” of the ICC gathering.