Delicacies and Cultural Genocide | HVGB #6

I wouldn’t say that there are many Labrador delicacies that are extremely memorable.  There are certainly some, due to the fact I eat at a college cafeteria, that I haven’t tried like polar bear (do I even really want to?), seal (see polar bear), or caribou.  I have, however, tried delicacies like salt cod, salt beef, salt pork, and fish and brewis.  When the cafeteria announced it would be serving (one of) those items, it seemed to generate some excitement.  After trying them, I wasn’t really impressed.  The salted meat was just, well, extremely salted meat.  Fish and brewis seemed to be just mashed cod fish.

In my time here, I’ve been doing research on the history of indigenous fisheries in the Labrador area and what I’ve noticed is that, for the most part, the history of indigenous fisheries in Labrador IS the history of Labrador.  It explains the heavy usage of salt; salt was (is) historically used to preserve the fish that was caught, plus the significant distance from Labrador to major hubs made it necessary for Labradorians to live off the land.

If you’re reading this now, I guess you might be wondering where cultural genocide fits in (or just genocide without the qualifier, since some argue that destroying culture is genocide by definition.  Not within the scope of this blog though).  I started thinking about this while reflecting on the delicacies I was wholly unimpressed by.  I was originally writing this blog post solely about the food and trying to avoid sounding pretentious and uppity.  I guess that growing up elsewhere (a more modernized area?  I don’t even know.) has given me a different standard for food and what a delicacy should be.  (Reading that sentence back, I can’t help but think “Wow, I’m really a POS.”)  I think that’s really reflective of the attitude that outsiders have historically had towards Labrador and its indigenous population (and indigenous populations in general).

It’s a story that has been told a thousand times and shouldn’t really be a surprise:  Indigenous populations have occupied Labrador for thousands of years before being colonized by Europeans (the Moravian church, to be exact, who were given “the right” to convert the indigenous to Christianity).  The Moravians immediately take control and force the indigenous populations to live certain “superior” lifestyles.  The indigenous populations (for simplicity’s sake, will just be referred to as the Inuit for the rest of this blog post) have traditionally fished for subsistence (cod, salmon, seal, etc.) but are pushed by the colonizing Europeans to pursue commercial fisheries, thereby marking a forced cultural shift from subsistence harvesting to commercial harvesting.  This transition also meant that the Inuit relied less on the land and more on store bought goods introduced by the Moravians, which were less nutritious and more expensive.

Even today, we still see outside entities telling the Inuit how they should be living.  Let’s look at the seal hunt, for example.  The Inuit have hunted seal for generations; it is of huge significance to their culture.  They furthermore do it with great stewardship (like they do with all natural resources).  Yet there has been significant backlash from the outside towards the Canadian seal hunt, resulting in various bans, campaigns, and anger towards the Inuit.  For what reason, I fail to understand.  The hunt is done sustainably and humanely (backed up by independent studies).  What could possibly be the issue?

My last example, one that really grinds my gears, is the cod fishery in Labrador.  While the Moravians encouraged the commercialization of the fishery, other countries with superior technology (bigger boats mostly) also fished off the Labrador waters.  Long story short, these outside entities overfished the living crap out of the cod stocks.  The Inuit, as I mentioned above, are incredibly stewards of their resources.  They traditionally only fished during certain seasons, allowing the cod stocks to regenerate.  However, these outside entities fished cod year round, leading to a cod stock so low that the Canadian government placed a moratorium on cod fishing in the 1990s.  The outside entities, the actual cause of this whole mess, simply went somewhere else without consequence.  The Inuit, on the other hand, the ones who have historically and culturally relied on the cod resource in THEIR WATERS, were the ones who suffered (economically AND CULTURALLY).

So I posed the question a little earlier as to why outsiders opposed the seal hunt so vehemently.  Maybe it’s because seals are cute, and it’s like hunting puppies or something.  That’s incredibly problematic to me because it’s effectively outsiders enforcing their culture onto the Inuit (hence, cultural genocide).  We don’t have the right to tell the Inuit what is or isn’t sacred in their land.  Or maybe it’s for sustainability purposes, which is also incredibly stupid.  The Inuit have an impeccable track record of resource stewardship.  I can only think that outsiders fear that the seal resource will be treated like how they themselves treat natural resources (see Labrador cod and, well, every environmental tragedy since the industrial revolution).

If there is a bright side, it’s that in 2005 the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement finally passed and the Nunatsiavut government (Nunatsiavut means “Our beautiful land”).  It only (*eye roll*) took 28 years from its original filing and, after two and a half centuries, the Inuit finally have some autonomy over THEIR LAND.  One of the main goals of the Nunatsiavut government is the preservation of Inuit culture and the environment, both of which came under fire when outsiders introduced themselves (if that wasn’t abundantly clear from above).

I apologize for how long this post is, and if it doesn’t make sense, I apologize.  I’m going straight stream of consciousness here, not writing an academic paper.  Hopefully what I’m trying to convey is clear.

One thought on “Delicacies and Cultural Genocide | HVGB #6

  • June 7, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Hi, Justin–

    What you’re writing here makes so much sense. It is not at all a stream of consciousness that cannot be deciphered or understood! I love that you are using your experience in Labrador to reflect upon what has happened to the local population there over the years. I am really seeing how you are integrating your internship experience in with your social experience living in Labrador, eating its foods, and seeing how people who have lived there for generations survive. Your post has a poetic character to it, making it very easy to read.

    I’m hopeful that as you continue spending time in Labrador, you continue to reflect upon the history of the region and the ways in which foreigners have fundamentally altered life there, to a massive cultural detriment. When you return home, I hope that you’ll also use this awareness to think about similar issues in the United States, and to tie them to work that you do in your classes and in life beyond college.


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