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Redfern and May meet with predictable results
Inuit colleagues walk out of debate over 'racist' Green Party seal hunt policy

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 15, 2012

A heated Twitter debate between Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May ended with an invitation from May to meet in Saskatoon, and the fated day arrived June 3.

NNSL photo/graphic

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May share a friendly moment in Saskatoon. Based on the results of their meeting, it might be assumed this photo was taken beforehand. - photo courtesy of Madeleine Redfern

The meeting did not end well.

"I didn't have high expectations," Redfern said. "The exchanges I had with her on Twitter made it quite clear that her position and policy were the talking points of the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), and she just confirmed that. Elizabeth May and the Green Party are disconnected from the Northern reality, and understanding the value of the seal hunt and the negative impacts the anti-seal hunt campaigns have on our communities."

The two met at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. Redfern invited any delegates from Nunavut who wanted to attend the meeting, and six from Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet came to the half-hour meeting. May brought some Saskatchewan Green Party members.

In the end, there was no mistaking that Redfern was heard loud and clear.

"We've never had anyone engage with us with such vehement anger as Mayor Redfern," May said. "What she has put to us pretty forcefully is that she thinks the Green Party policies are at least culturally insensitive, and she may even use stronger language. I don't think we're going to abandon opposition to the seal hunt. It's a very strongly-held view within the vast majority of our members."

May's comments didn't endear her to the Inuit councillors who attended, Redfern said.

"Several of our Inuit members left the room during this meeting because they found what she had to say on the Green Party policy on the seal hunt so offensive and so disconcerting," she said, noting concerns over the fact that the policy allows for a subsistence hunt. "Inuit hunting and harvesting rights include the right to sell and trade our products, and I found that word (subsistence) very discriminatory.

"Anti-seal-hunt campaigns that target the East Coast hunt still have a huge negative effect on the marketplace and do harm our communities and have vastly reduced the value of pelts. This is a national party leader who didn't understand the issue, the impacts and our way of life."

May seemed more conciliatory, suggesting she would take the concerns back to her membership.

"We have membership telling us we must be respectful culturally, and we have members telling us that the only seal hunt we accept as policy is the Inuit hunt, but using the word subsistence, which she said effectively means that nobody can sell commercially fur, and it becomes essentially a form of colonialism," she said. "Until we change that (the wording), I don't think she'll want to talk to us."

Redfern noted that her concerns touched a nerve with a member of May's delegation.

"The Saskatchewan Greens member came up to me afterwards and apologized and said that yes, the Green Party's anti-sealing policy is a racist policy," she said. "I think that many Saskatchewanians recognize the importance and value of the agriculture economy to them, which includes, of course, many different animals. They were clearly unaware this policy was founded on animal rights values."

Such conversations may need to happen with Green Party members on an individual basis. May left ready for round three.

"You know how forceful she is, so it was not an easy meeting, but I am very grateful that we had a chance to talk," she said. "We believe we have a very strong set of policies in relation to First Nations, Metis and Inuit rights. I hope it won't be the last time we get to sit down together."

If she wants that to happen, she may have to use actions, not words, to show she supports the Inuit cause.

"We gave her a green sealskin brooch that was made by one of our councillors Mary Wilman, who makes a living by selling and making sealskin products," Redfern said. "Elizabeth said she was thankful to receive the gift and how beautiful it was. She did put it on, we did get a couple of pictures.

"I then was told she removed the pin as soon as we left the room. I was disappointed to see that because it signalled that she wasn't prepared to wear sealskin and support our industry outside our private venue. Wearing it in public would show that she is truly supportive of our way of life."

As she was tied up in a marathon session of voting, in the House of Commons, on hundreds of amendments to the government's omnibus budget implementation bill, Nunavut News/North was unable to follow up with May as to whether she would take that step.

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