Nunavut's seal industry is getting a $150,000 boost from the federal government, as it works to better promote the ailing industry and take full advantage of Nunavut's exemption to the European Union's ban on seal products.
The funding is the first installment from the five-year $5.7-million Certification and Market Access Program for Seals.
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"I think it's a big step between Canada and Nunavut to be able to find different ways for marketing our seal products," said Hunter Tootoo, Nunavut's MP and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
"It's all about opening new markets for our indigenous seal products."
Tootoo, Premier Peter Taptuna and Nunavut's environment minister Johnny Mike, made the announcement in Ottawa, surrounded by Inuit artists touting their wares at the Northern Lights Conference.
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The event itself, which even earned an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, can be seen as both a promotional opportunity for the industry and an opportunity for artisans to strategize on future projects.
"At these types of events, like the Northern Lights event and the Nunavut Trade Show... we explore different opportunities," said Rowena House, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA).
For example, the organization is working with a business in Scotland to develop a market for sealskin sporrans.
"That's the little purse that they use with their official piping uniform," she said.
That's one of a number of programs the Government of Nunavut says it will lead in collaboration with NACA.
"We'll try and do more on engaging Inuit seamstresses," said Mike, adding that some funds will be used for a training program at Iqaluit's Tukisigiarvik Society.
Untapped European market
Trudeau's decision to attend the conference — where he picked up a seal skin vest — "absolutely" shows the government's commitment to the industry, said Tootoo.
"The federal government, all along, has been supporting the fisheries and sealing division in our department to deliver some specific programs in our sealing programs," said Mike.
While the $150,000 is only a fraction of the multi-million dollar program, he's not concerned about the huge expense of developing a promotional strategy and developing a brand-new certification process.
"We're going to have to utilize the new funding in the best way possible, so we can open up more markets for the seal industry in Nunavut," Mike said.
"It's been kind of long coming."