Would have been an 'insult' not to accept seal heart: Gov. Gen.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean defended her eating of a seal heart during a community feast this week in Nunavut, saying it wasn't meant to be a political statement.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean defended her eating of a seal heart during a community feast this week in Nunavut, saying it wasn't meant to be a political statement.

"I think a person in my position knows exactly what's in the air, and I'm aware of the context," she said in an interview Wednesday with The Canadian Press. "I'm aware that now if you eat seal or wear something made of sealskin... it says that you recognize this activity.

"But this activity is part of the way of life of thousands of people in our country. In the North, in the Arctic, in the East, also in coastal regions," Jean said.

On Wednesday night in Nunavut, Jean joined a group of Inuit on a land excursion to see seals. Although it was reported to be a hunt and she was warned ahead of time that she might see a seal get shot, Jean said afterward  that it was never intended to be a hunting excursion.

Earlier this week in the central Nunavut community of Rankin Inlet, Jean used a traditional Inuit knife to cut into the flesh of a seal and slice off a part of its heart. She then swallowed it raw. Jean said she was informed the heart is the most coveted part of the meal.

The incident sparked national headlines and protests from animal welfare groups, but also earned her praise from sealers, Canadian Inuit leaders and politicians like Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who described Jean as "Canada's new Braveheart."

"The heart is a delicacy," Jean said. "It is the best you can offer to your guest. It is the best that is offered to the elders.

"So, do you say no to that? You engage, and at the same time you are learning about a way of life, a civilization, a tradition."

Jean said the seal hunt is a vital part of the Inuit economy that is done in a sustainable and respectful way.

She said people are probably too conditioned by modern life and forget where food comes from.

"When I eat beef, I am totally aware that eating beef is also … a once-living thing.

"Vegetarians make a choice in their life. I haven't made this choice. When I eat lamb, I know that I am eating a lamb. When I eat veal, I know that I am eating a veal. Those, too, are very cute animals."

She said that seal is an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients and has sustained the Inuit for centuries.

"It would have been an insult, and it's not in my nature to stay at a distance and not participate."

Jean is visiting Nunavut as part of the territory's 10th anniversary celebrations. Nunavut became a territory on April 1, 1999.

With files from The Canadian Press