Scores of academics and scientists descend on the territories each year to poke, probe, and proselytise. It’s not all the stuff of dry dissertations. Some of it is weird. All of it is wonderful. This issue, Up Here is documenting some of the wildest research happening in the North.
There’s a science to the Northern hunting selfie, specifically when it comes to seals.
Spurred by a trending #sealfie movement—social media photos of Northerners using seal—long-time Inuit cultural anthropologist Edmund Searles sought to explore the relationship between the selfie and subsistence hunting.
“The Inuit economy has been hammered by animal rights activists criticizing and demonizing the hunting of seal and marine mammals,” says Searles, who recently published the paper, “Fresh seal blood looks like beauty and life: #sealfies and subsistence in Nunavut.”
Searles, a Bucknell University professor who has studied Inuit relationships to the land for around three decades, says his research has a lot to do with hanging around and being a good listener. This study is rooted in a 2014 social media post by musician Tanya Tagaq that shows a photo of her infant daughter lying on the tundra next to a hunted seal—that’s after the #sealfie movement was formed to combat an anti-seal-hunting environmental selfie trend spearheaded by Ellen DeGeneres.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding of what hunting is among non-agricultural-based communities,” he says.
In the North, subsistence hunting is about more than physical sustenance—it’s about community, collective labour and coming of age.
“It’s an art, it’s a cosmology, it’s almost a religion,” Searles says. “It’s a way of connecting to the universe. Inuit need seals and seals need Inuit.”
Searls says the #sealfie is now a modern hunting tool for self-expression and identity, especially for youth. “It’s a source of activism, a source of social justice” and a way to give voice to harvesters and foragers when they are politically vilified.