Iqaluit city council rejected a request that it use the Canadian flag to protest the seal hunt and insteadinvited a U.S. animal rights spokesman to come North to learn how anti-sealing campaigns hurt the Inuit.

At its council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik read a letter from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asking the city to fly the flag half-mast as a symbol of mourning for the seals that will be killed during the annual commercial seal hunt.

The letter, sent to the mayors of all Canadian capitals, stated that many baby seals are slaughtered before they've learned to swim or eaten their first solid meals — a message that also appears on the organization's website. A video accompanied the letter.

"They have to come and learn and realize that what they're doing will impact us," Sheutiapik said Wednesday. "They may not understand it, but we felt it already. We're just in the last, I'd say,10 years recovering from Greenpeace."

PETA senior campaign co-ordinator Matt Rice told CBC News from Virginia that he realized his message was going to Inuit territory, where people hunt and harvest seals. He said his organization takes a bigger issue with the East Coast seal hunt, set to start later this week.

"The Canadian government has been trying to hide behind the Inuit in pursuing this commercial seal hunt and they're two separate issues," Rice said Wednesday. "No one, not even PETA, has a quarrel with native people who truly have no choice but to hunt in order to survive. But that's really not what's going on here."

Council passed a motion to reply to Rice's letter, informing PETA that it supports the seal hunt and inviting Rice to visitIqaluit so he could learn about the importance of the seal hunt to Inuitand the impact anti-sealing campaigns have on the Inuit way of life.

"Anything that affects the Canadian East Coast harp seal hunt also affects the Inuit seal hunt in Nunavut," Coun. Glen Williams said Tuesday.

"The seal hunt is a very important part of the culture and anything that affects sealers in Canada affects Inuit sealers as well. We should also offer Mr. Rice the opportunity to come to our community and find out how important seals are to us culturally."

Rice told CBC News he'd be happy to take the city up on its invitation tovisit the North.