Why this Inuk son chose to proudly wear a sealskin parka made by his mom, amid social media backlash

For Yellowknife's Braden Johnston, getting a handmade sealskin parka felt like a coming of age. The social media backlash clinched it.

‘When I put it on, I feel like six inches taller... I just feel almost like a king’

Braden Johnston (left) and his mother Hovak Johnston (right). Braden says he loves his handmade sealskin parka his mother made him. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Yellowknife's Braden Johnston is turning 18 this weekend, and says he feels like he's "coming of age" after dealing with a flurry of social media reactions he received about his controversial birthday gift — a handmade sealskin parka.

"It's almost like a personal coming of age," said Braden. "Now I can say I have the confidence and pride to actually call myself a young, Inuk man."

This is the photo that Braden posted, along with the hashtag #F***PETA, on Facebook. It received a lot of online attention, especially after award-winning throat singer Tanya Tagaq shared his photo. (Braden Johnston/Facebook)

Braden's mom sewed him the sealskin parka with a wolverine ruff — a special gift for a son who's becoming a man.

"I wanted something really special for him… that he'll have for a long time," said Hovak Johnston, a traditional artist and seamstress.

It's just kind of like putting up the middle finger to everybody who says: No, you can't wear that.- Braden Johnston

Braden was ecstatic when he received the gift.

"The first time I put it on, an overwhelming amount of confidence washed over me," said Braden.

"When I put it on, I feel like six inches taller, 100 pounds heavier. I just feel almost like a king."

'You can't wear that. You can't do this.'

When Braden decided to post a photo of himself in his coat on social media, he made a conscious decision to attach the hashtag: #F--KPETA.

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has campaigned energetically against the seal hunt in Canada.

While PETA says it's not opposed to the Indigenous hunt, Inuit have pointed out that stopping the commercial seal hunt effectively stops the subsistence hunt by affecting the market for sealskins. They argue that banning seal hunting is like banning Inuit lifestyle and culture. 

"PETA... [have] tried to tell Inuit what we can wear, what we can eat, what we can do," Braden said.

Hovak says she wanted to make something special for Braden for his 18th birthday this weekend. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"So it's just kind of like putting up the middle finger to everybody who says: 'No, you can't wear that, you can't do this,'" said Braden. "Yes I can, it's a part of my culture."

After Award-winning Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq posted the photo of Braden's parka on her Facebook, along with the hashtags #eatseal #wearseal, her account was suspended. Facebook later apologized for suspending her.

Since then, Braden has been receiving a lot of reaction online — both negative and supportive.

"It's kind of painful in a way to see him as an individual to be attacked like that in some of the negative posts," said Hovak.

"I know he's really strong, and he can handle all the negativity, but it's also scary as a mom."

Son and mother, both proud Inuit, live in Yellowknife. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

But Hovak says she's proud that her son is standing up for his Inuit culture. "It takes a lot of courage to stand up to people like that."

Braden says he ignores the "nasty comments" and instead, he's overwhelmed by the outpour of support from people of all ethnicities, many of them posting photos of their sealskin clothing.

"It's beautiful seeing these people just come together," he said.

Braden says he's going to continue to wear his coat, proudly.

"There's not an ounce of doubt when I put it on," he said.

"There's nothing like this jacket. I love it."

with files from Loren McGinnis, Peter Sheldon