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Nunavut, N.W.T. and Greenland team up on European politicians to promote Inuit seal skin products

Representatives from 3 Arctic governments in Brussels promote hi-tech way to identify Inuit origin seal skin

Hovak Johnston

The N.W.T.'s Hovak Johnston helps a participant in Brussels try on a sealskin coat. (Submitted by Laurie Sarkadi)

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On Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, representatives from Greenland presented the European Parliament with the idea of a QR barcode to help consumers identify legal seal skin products. Northern sealing advocates from the N.W.T. and Nunavut were there to support the new initiative.

"It's a barcode that you can easily scan that directs the consumer to a website in the EU that tells them that these products are exempted from the EU seal ban and they're legal for entering into the EU," explains Francois Rossouw, a fur marketer with the N.W.T. government who traveled to Brussels for the meeting.

Rossouw says people were supportive of the barcode.

"It was good to hear."

Rossouw and Johnston

Francois Rossouw, fur marketer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, and Hovak Johnston, Inuit culture activist-at-large, stand in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. They are there to promote a hi-tech innovation that could help promote Inuit origin seal products. (Submitted by Hovak Johnston)

Since 2009, the European Union has had a ban on seal skin products. Since then, Nunavut, the N.W.T. and Greenland have won exemptions for fur products of certified Inuit origin.

It's known as the "the Inuit exemption."

Hovak Johnston, known for her Inuit tattoo revitalizing project, is also in Brussels. She explained to the group, mostly made of European politicians, how the ban has affected her life.

She talked about how her son was bullied and received threats on Internet for publishing a photo of himself  in a sealskin parka.

"It's really important to have these meetings and to bring real people just to have that personal story bring it to life, and give them more understanding of our perspective," she says. "We're not going out there and squandering the seals and the furs. Inuit use all the seal."

Johnston says that after her presentation, people were interested in touching and trying on the sealskin parka she brought with her. "I was very surprised how many men were interested to try the parka on," she said.

Johnston says politicians "playing with people's lives" don't understand what the ban is doing unless "you put a real person up there and then tell a story from your heart."

"The presentations from Aaju Peter from Nunavut and also Hovak Johnston from the N.W.T. really hit home exactly what this seal skin ban is doing to Inuit people... and how it's affecting their way of life and the wellbeing of their families," Rossouw said.

"I don't think they were prepared for some of the stories. They had real life examples of the effect of the ban."

On Thursday, the northern representatives are expected to speak at the Danish embassy in Brussels.

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