This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2014. Tanya Tagaq is an award-winning singer and activist from Nunavut, Canada.
I don't understand the logic of protesting the hunting of a relatively small number of animals that are completely sustainable. It doesn't make any sense to me why people don't get up from their computers and protest slaughterhouses, as opposed to stopping indigenous, poverty-ridden people from being able to reap their own natural resources. It just takes a couple of celebrities like Paul McCartney to come along and talk about how cute these seals are, and everyone loses their mind completely.
When you aren't from a city and you aren't born and raised around skyscrapers and only picking food up from the grocery store, you understand the process of a living thing becoming your food. But a lot of people who eat meat are disgusted at the thought of a dead animal—they don't want to touch it. That's why I posted the sealfie in the first place. I wanted to have my baby there to demonstrate that this isn't gross; we're all flesh and we should respect the being that gave its life for us to eat. I definitely know that when you're buying chicken breast at the store, you're not like, Thank you, chicken, for dying.
Anyone who tries to vilify me and my position on seals is not sitting there in the spring in Nunavut when there are so many seals that it's like someone took a pepper shaker and sprinkled it on the ice. It's ridiculous that other cultures are welcome to survive off of our natural resources, but we're not. A lot of people support what I'm saying because it's logical. And you know what's illogical? Thousands of people who have never seen a seal, who are sitting behind a computer and getting out their personal angst by trolling.
Seals make these animal rights groups lots of money, because a rich woman in Brooklyn isn't going to send you a $500 donation if you send her a postcard with a chicken on it. You need the cute seal's face so that it generates empathy. It's only a couple groups of people making money off of seals, and it's not the people who live with them.
When I said "fuck PETA" at the Polaris Prize awards, I had a two-minute acceptance speech to get across everything I wanted to say. But PETA had hours and hours to come up with a statement, and all they say was for me to "read more"! There's no logic in there; there's no respect. They vilified Inuit people for generations, and finally one of them very publicly stands up to them, and that showed their racism. Admittedly, what I said wasn't the most mature thing. But if you got to know me, you'd see that I curse a lot, but I've got a warm heart.
Trying to talk to people who are completely fanatical about a situation is really difficult. I'm not going to get in a conversation with anybody who can't have an actual conversation. When I post something online about feminism or indigenous rights, there's always that person that's like, Oh, you're whining, get over it. I try to see as many sides of a topic as I can, and I'm open to changing my mind as long as you can provide me with adequate information that'll allow my opinion to be swayed. But if anyone's stupid enough to argue against basic human rights, I don't want to talk to them.
What a lot of people don't understand is that kids in indigenous communities are hungry, and it's painful to see that. Knowing that, how do you empower people? In the 1970s, when Greenpeace started protesting the seal hunt, suicide rates jumped in Nunavut. To empower people, they have to feel good about themselves and be able to provide for their own families. If you're making money by doing something you love and always did and are very good at, and are simultaneously feeding your children, that will help alleviate some of the socioeconomic problems, which will dovetail into having a higher quality of life, and then decrease the number of missing and murdered indigenous women in our community. It's all connected.
Nunavut is so far up north that there are no trees. The sea ice in the winter is about seven to ten feet thick, so it's a complete wasteland. It's beautiful and it's amazing, but it's hard to carve out an existence from it. There are no greenhouses. When you get stuff flown up, inevitably it freezes in the airplane. There are no roads, so you get half-frozen or wilted vegetables. It's hard to get fresh fruits or veggies. There are kids going to school who haven't had breakfast, and your heart just breaks. You think, Oh my goodness, I wish I could fill your bellies with some good healthy food. When you try to stick up for them, you run into all these fancy people who have a perfect roof over their head and lots of food because they can afford organic tofu and walk down the street to a market with all the vegetables there are in the world. It's basically a mini version of colonialism.
When colonialists and whalers started coming up north, they used to balk at the idea of us eating raw meat, but then people were dying of scurvy and not realizing that the only way to retain the vitamins was to eat it raw. To me, fresh meat is like perfectly ripe fresh fruit; you don't want to age that fruit for days for flavor.
Seal meat is very, very nutritious—it's dense and dark. My favorite is raw seal liver. The only way I've ever cooked seal meat is very simply, like boiled or roasted. It's something your tummy has to get used to because it's so rich, and there are some animals you have to be really careful with, like polar bear. You shouldn't eat the liver of it because the vitamins in it will kill you.
A lot of meat, like caribou, I like frozen and raw. You cut it into very thin slices and it's pretty delectable. I have a good recipe for roast caribou that I like to share because I really love it and I made it up. I like adding berries and squishing them into the gravy afterward. It's my signature dish.
I think food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. One beautiful part of my job is that, as I go country to country, I love to eat locally sourced food. When I do buy meat down south, I try to get stuff that's humanely raised because you don't want to eat a tortured animal. When you're hunting, you don't want to chase an animal for a long time because the adrenaline will taint the meat, and you'll be able to taste that. When animals are being slaughtered at factory farms, they know what's happening. They can feel it in the air, and they've spent their whole lives being tortured in little quarters. You're eating their torture and anxiety, which inevitably isn't good for you.
There are a lot of people still eating off the land up north, and it's really beautiful because you're respecting the Earth and not polluting it. We should be being heralded as one of the last cultures that are living in harmony with the Earth, instead of being vilified by isolated groups of people who are out to make a buck off a cute seal face. You look at what's happening on the planet right now and there's this disconnect from nature. This guy posted on my Facebook wall, This is insane, those animals are in their natural habitat—we have animals set aside to kill for food. And it's like, no, reverse that!
People are not healthy because they're eating a lot of terribly processed, poisonous food, and it's hurting the entire human race. People need to have the opportunity to be able to afford good food. I've seen places where pop is cheaper than water. People shouldn't be born and raised on this stuff, thinking it's good for them.
It's time to be respectful and promote healing and be aware of what's going on. I just want to do my best to raise awareness in the most positive way possible. In my heart of hearts, I have hope for Canadian citizens and have hope for all cultures to be able to thrive. I don't think that's so farfetched.
As told to Matthew Zuras