Pilot whale killing, painting by S.J. Mikines (1957)
Marine mammals hold a special place in the spiritual and cultural life, and folklore, of humans. This importance is due to their appearance and behaviour, as well as the environemnt they thrive in, which is so foreign to humans. It also derives from the dependency, humans have had towards them as a resource for survival and well-being, and all in all the respect and admiration humans have developed for these species. Marine mammal hunting dates back at least 9 000 years, and present hunting also upholds a link to the past.
The linkage between food and culture has always been, and continues to be, inextricable – supporting both cultural identity and food security.
Our foods do more than nourish our bodies, they feed our souls. When I eat Inuit foods, I know who I am. I feel the connection to our ocean and to our land, to our people, to our way of life (Egede in Cone 2005).
As a link to a unique identity, subsistence harvest is, besides its subsistence and economical purposes, a critical activity with a vital social value. By providing self-reliance and self-respect, it serves to alleviate cultural discontinuity, and to create, reinforce, and maintain cultural and social identity in communities that have limited economic possibilities, but are inundated with images of globalisation/consumer values. If not demonised, it would underpin the delicate balancing act of living concurrently in two very different cultures.
Whaling and sealing are part of a larger issue – peoples’ right to exploit natural resources – and symbolise, besides culture and social integrity, the right to self-determination and self-management. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights & International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, Part I, Article 1.1 and 1.2 states:
“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources… In no case, may a people be deprived of their means of subsistence”
You can read more on marine mammals, culture and identity here.