Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo wore a sealskin bow tie to a state dinner at the White House last night, even though bringing sealskins into the U.S. has been illegal since 1972.
The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act bans the import of sealskins, a fact that came as a surprise last year to one Labrador woman who had her sealskin purse confiscated at the U.S. border.
Although Tootoo's bow tie, and a sealskin neck tie he wore earlier in the day, may have appeared like an act of resistance, it was not illegal. The law includes an exemption for indigenous people, and Tootoo has the appropriate documentation with him, according to his staff.
"Everyone who knows me also knows that I wear sealskin ties pretty much all the time, and I did so this week in Washington," Tootoo said in a statement.
"My collection of ties reflects my heritage that I am proud to display wherever I might be and that included when meeting the president."
Sealskin neck ties, bow ties and vests are normal attire for Nunavut politicians. Tootoo wore all three regularly in the Nunavut Legislature where he served as a member from 1999 to 2013.
Inuit in Nunavut and elsewhere have decried the U.S. sealskin ban — even with the indigenous exemption — saying it unfairly vilifies the seal hunt and threatens the Nunavut economy.
Tootoo's fashion choice was immediately noted online. Many were supportive.
Others were less enthusiastic.
Tootoo appeared unapologetic, tweeting this image of himself with U.S. President Barack Obama Friday morning.
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization, appeared similarly unconcerned.