In Nunavut, sealskin supply can’t meet the demand

Government officials and Inuit organizations have been lobbying hard to get the European Union to lift its ban on seal products, but artisans living and working in Nunavut say they can't get enough seal pelts to meet the demand.

'There is a market and it is not saturated at all'

'There is a market and it is not saturated at all,' says Ranva Simonsen, an Iqaluit seamstress and business owner who works with sealskin. She's had to buy pelts from Greenland and Canada's East Coast in the past. (CBC)

Nunavut government officials and Inuit organizations have been lobbying hard to get the European Union to lift its ban on seal products.

Meanwhile, artisans living and working in Nunavut say they can't get enough seal pelts to meet the demand.

Rannva Simonsen has been lobbying for a decade to get more access to Nunavut seal skins so she doesn't have to buy pelts from Canada's East Coast or Greenland.

Simonsen runs a sewing business and storefront in Apex, where she and others produce sealskin coats, purses and accessories.

She says things have improved in recent years, thanks to a program with the territory's Department of Environment. It buys ringed seal skins from hunters and sends them to the fur auction house in North Bay where they're tanned.

Rowena House, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, says the sealskin supply is still not meeting local demand. (CBC)
But Simonsen would like to see more.

“The opportunity for people work with their hands and use the skins and make beautiful things… continue on tradition," Simonsen says. "There is a market and it is not saturated at all.”

The Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association says the environment department distributes about 300 tanned pelts every three months. That’s about 50 per cent more than in the past.

But NACA’s executive director says it still doesn’t meet the demand, because of growing interest in seal products across the north.

“Because there are more pelts coming in, they are more readily available,” says Rowena House. “But then that also puts more demand on the sewers to do more.”

The demand in Iqaluit is mostly for locally sourced seal skins.

Some say they'd like the government to open an environmentally-friendly tannery in the territory.

But for now, they'd be happy with access to more pelts.

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