We interviewed the Bjork collaborator about why attacking her for a #sealfie reflects a colonial ‘You can’t do that!’ attitude that still thrives in Canada.
The image of Tanya Tagaq's baby and a seal that led to an explosion of harassment from a choice group of animal rights extremists on Twitter. Photo via Twitter.
Last week we reported on “sealfies,” a “tongue-in-cheek protest to all these very serious animal rights activists.” The seal is essentially an Inuit natural resource. Eat them, wear them, use the bones for toys or sell their furs on the open market. The Inuit’s relationship with the seal goes back to time immemorial.
Tanya Tagaq is from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Along with being an internationally acclaimed artist whose own style of throat singing has led to collaborations with Bjork and A Tribe Called Red (not on the same record, unfortunately), along with travel to 36 countries, she’s also the mother who took a picture of her baby beside a seal and posted it on Twitter, which you can see at the top of this very article.
Anyhow, the reaction she’s received from a choice group of animal rights nutjobs, along with the abuse they’ve levelled against her in regards to this photo, is far more violent in nature than killing a seal. They’ve attacked her personally, her child, her family, and Inuit culture in its entirety. Here are a few choice samples:
@straysneedlove ..If they have the mentality 2 murder a seal like that, they could easily murder humans
I wanted to get Tanya’s thoughts on the backlash. We discussed, among other things, how hating on the seal hunt is a microcosm of a colonial attitude that persists well beyond the small, simple act of killing a seal, and that hating someone for posting a picture has far broader implications. On short notice we spoke by phone yesterday. Me in my kitchen at the end of my lunch break at 2:00 PM in Fort Nelson, BC, and her sitting in a stairwell, post-show, at 11:00 PM on tour in Berlin.
VICE: So, you posted this picture of your daughter with a seal…
Tanya Tagaq: That picture was taken long before the sealfie movement. We went to an elders’ camp near our community and my mother and I went to say hi to them, and one of the hunters there came back with the seal for everybody to eat and enjoy and use the skin, and everyone was really happy about it. My Mother took the picture, and I put my baby next to the seal, and everybody just thought it was the cutest thing in the world. Like it was a really sweet endearment because I honour my children immensely and I would never, ever, do anything to compromise that honour towards them. It was just showing how much I appreciated the seal for giving its life so we could be happy and eat.
One of the harassing images of seals Photoshopped onto Tanya's body. Photo via Twitter.
But some people don’t see that. Somebody switched it around and posted a picture of your baby being skinned.
APTN interviewed the man who did that. He first made a picture of a skinned baby seal beside me and I was fine with that. And then he Photoshopped a picture of my face peeled off, and I was also ok with that, because I expected freaks to be freaks. But then he posted a picture where he Photoshopped my baby, there was a man stabbing my baby, and a kind of club-like thing across the front. He was all bloody on the ground, and that’s when I just kind of thought, ok, this is too much. I’ve been getting a lot of hate from people who are saying I don’t deserve to breathe, and they’re calling child services—all of this crazy stuff. I’m realizing more and more that it’s because of these people the world is so fucked up in the first place.
Why are these people so self-righteous? The way they’re reacting to your photo is with a more violent approach than whatever violence there is in hunting a seal…
I think what happens is that it’s a simple thing of ego. They’ve got a bunch of other crowds of people cheering behind them so they get really arrogant and they start being able to feed their ego through protest. They’ve got nothing better to do and have lived such nice privileged lives that they complain about a couple Inuit people killing people killing seals in Nunavut. And to have the righteousness to hurl abuse at someone on that level, like to Photoshop a baby about to be skinned lying bloody on the ground, is close to psychotic. It’s one of the sickest things I’ve heard of anyone doing. And that’s my daughter.
I would give anything to be in the same room with that guy and just look at him. I’m not threatening, I’d just look him in the eye. And I bet you he couldn’t hold my eyes. I want him to come to a concert and see me sing and just see how pissed off I am.
But I believe we have to take responsibility for ourselves too. I take responsibility on all levels like I’m not just blaming people. But one of the best ways for people to heal from the terrible things that have happened to them is to get out on that beautiful land and have that peace and glory, it’s the only time I’m happy, truly at peace and happy is when I’m on the land at Nunavut and you can’t take that away from us.
Have you been able to turn any of this emotion and use it creatively, is it inspiring while you’re on stage on tour, are you writing about it?[Laughs] Yep, absolutely. I have to admit the concerts on this European tour have been really good. I think about that Photoshopped picture when I’m singing, and it all gets to come out. It’s very cathartic, and it’s very good. A lot of my music career has been protest music without words, because it’s very difficult to discuss these issues in Canada, because you bring up native rights and people just roll their eyes and put on their party pow wow headdress or whatever. It’s really difficult to get through the clouded mentality. It’s like a smog all over Canada, it’s still so fresh what’s happened, we’re still riding on the back of the bus, it’s still a big issue.