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circle of life

For all of those who love undersea creatures and cringe at the acts of shark fining and whale hunting for profit, we agree with absolution. For those who reflect negatively upon the killing of ocean dwellers regardless of a result aimed at financial gain or nutritional sustenance, I would like to tell you a story about Greenland and a culture that survives off the freedom to hunt for food. Hunting for food in order to sustain life is the nature of all creatures on land and underwater. In most places, humans no longer have to hunt for food, humans don’t have to fear a rise or dip in certain animal or fish populations that they depend upon to live. Walking to the grocery market supplies most of us with the necessities to not only survive, but to live quite comfortably.

Greenland is the largest island in the world and yet its inhabitants total to a mere 57,000 people. A country made mostly of ice, Greenland is isolated and largely untouched situated at the the top of the world. Because of the extremely harsh terrain with winters of total darkness and summers of twenty-four hour sunlight, the Inuit people have sustained life from the only resources they have access to, creatures from the sea and arctic mammals from the land.

The life of hunter or fisherman is not easy. Being a hunter or fisherman used to hold a highly honorable place in society as it requires skill, patience and a large amount of toughness. Responsible for providing almost all of the food and clothing for their small communities, hunting is an essential part of the Inuit culture. Not hunting for sport or an outside profit, each part of the kill is taken and used for a different purpose. The hide’s are tanned and used for clothing, the fur provides warmth for boots, jackets, hats or sleeping matts, and the teeth and tusks hold spiritual significance and sometimes carved into figurines or made into tools. Very different from the notion of killing a whole beast to extract a single prized piece, the Inuit hunt to survive, trade for other necessary commodities, and attempt to hold nature and all its inhabitants in a balance.

Many people inside and outside Greenland say this balance is off. New quotas are placed every year upon each district and the hunters and fisherman are extremely limited to the number of sea and land mammals they can hunt. Mads Ole, the spokesperson for the Qaanaaq hunters states, “Scientist say there are not many narwhals, or walrus, but from our eyes we can see a lot a lot of animals. We try to say to our government what its like here but our government does not hear from us, they only follow scientists. Our quota is too low, and we can not hunt many, maybe enough for only 10 or 20 hunters, but its not too good. Many young children must go and look for another job. Its not too good for us because there are too many scientist making decisions about our life, they do not understand what we do here as hunters. From outside, they think hunting is illegal. But hunters make and hold the circle of life. If there are too many seals and they are eating too many fish, the circle is broken. They are trying to kill our culture, and we are gripping onto our culture because we want to hold onto the circle of life as hunters.” From our time here, I would agree that this sentiment is shared among all hunters in the northern more rural regions of Greenland.

Every country in the world hunts and survives off whatever mammal, fish or bug that inhabits that region. In Greenland, there are no cows or chickens, no beetles or bats, but there are seals, narwhal, halibut and polar bear. The Inuit hunt to survive, not wishing to exploit or diminish a certain population, for the life underwater and atop the mountain ridges allows them life in return. Now, with the modern imports of frozen lamb, beef and chicken, the need to hunt for fresh food thins slowly with time. Because the hunting way of life has its difficult physical demands and has come under international scrutiny, the modern convenient way of life becomes more appealing each year. Many fear the lose of the very tread that has woven their past, letting go the very thing that makes the Inuit what they are today.



31 Comments Post a comment
  1. Peri Riechers #

    So well written and beautifully captured, I am so impressed by your guys’ spirit for adventure and I hope you are rewarded by the beauty and freedom that such a rural place seems to offer. If you have not already I suggest you two download “call of the wild,” cozy up by the fire and listen to London’s tale. It seems all too appropriate. Sending sunshine from Cali, stay strong… and warm.


    May 7, 2012
  2. You make the world so much more fascinating, thank you. Cheers

    May 7, 2012
  3. many thanks again for your beautiful and educational posts…

    May 6, 2012
  4. Rosanna #

    Reblogged this on Journal of my Soul.

    May 6, 2012
  5. Lily-Rose #

    This was very interesting to read and I find myself coming back to read it again and look at the photographs. While I do agree that there is a circle of life to maintain, I also understand what the animal activists are concerned with. I think it’s obvious you understand that dichotomy as well. Is it possible that these particular people you’re with are the “good kind” of hunter, and that also the “bad kind” exists too, those who are not focused on the “circle of life?” I guess my question is, where can one draw the line? Is it even possible? How much longer will the Inuit culture, honestly, be able to sustain their way hunting way of life?
    The photos are beautiful and fitting. I absolutely adore the portrait-style ones. My new favorite is the man smoking the pipe. Thank you for providing such eloquent prose.

    May 1, 2012
  6. I really wish I could come give the hunter a big bear hug! He looks so soft, and kind ;) Miss you guys!

    May 1, 2012
  7. touchy subject handled very well. thank you for not dodging the issue and only posting dramatic, emotionally moving photographs.

    April 30, 2012
  8. Beautifully written and amazing photos. The link between the Inuits and the animals they hunt is one that those who seek to change it don not understand. The inuits understand far better than anyone else the need for balance and harmony they have a vested interest in ensuring the animals do not die out Sadly I fear that in todays commercial world it is only a matter of time before their ancestral ways are lost.

    April 30, 2012
  9. amazing pictures

    April 30, 2012
  10. “We plow under the habitats of other animals to grow hybrid corn that fattens our genetically engineered animals for slaughter. We make free species extinct and domestic species into bio-machines. We build cruelty into our diet.” ~ Peter Singer & Jim Mason as quoted in “The Way We Eat”

    It’s environmentally misguided for a government to import frozen lamb, beef and chicken when a local source of meat is available. And the domestic animals suffer greatly on their way to our tables, whereas the local animals have been free to live naturally in the circle of life. I’m mostly vegan, but will occasionally eat meat that has been naturally and organically raised and humanely slaughtered, or hunted in the wild. I feel for the Inuit – it’s so sad to be losing their unique place in the circle of life…

    Your photos are breathtaking!

    April 30, 2012
  11. averilg #

    Thank you for helping me to understand why the hunting is necessary.

    April 30, 2012
  12. beautifully said and written, from a lifelong vegetarian and animal rights activist. cultures have long hunted for sustenance…. of course. when it is done with RESPECT for the animal in question (honoring the creature’s place on this planet, utilizing the entire body for their own needs, etc.), it is an entirely different issue, is it not? that being said, there are far too many who haven’t practiced such an honorable practice…sadly.

    April 30, 2012
    • Echoing what you’re saying here, FeyGirl…

      April 30, 2012
  13. Beautifully written post, and has given me a topic of contemplation on this otherwise boring Monday morning. Thanks very much for sharing. Love your work.

    April 30, 2012
  14. Wonderful written about the hard existence the natives has – and to kill for survival is necessary, but to kill for other reasons are not acceptable.

    April 30, 2012
  15. Hi Guys

    I’ve seen lots of documentaries about this issue. It’s an interesting question. Is a particular way of life for a group of human beings more important than a particular animal species? I’m sure if I had that way of life I’d think it was. However, sitting here in my living room with a freezer full of meat that was farmed responsibly, I don’t think it is.

    We are using up our natural resources. End of Story. I am sure the people up there are lovely, but tell them they don’t have to kill off species to live if they move south.

    The world is overpopulated. It is our biggest problem. DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN!!

    April 30, 2012
    • Although I understand where you are coming from, I must disagree on a few points. You are casually referring to uprooting over 800 people who have an established culture, family and routine like the one we all create in our home towns. It is also important to note that they are not killing off whole species, in fact they keep track of the population sizes to make sure there are plenty for the years to come. I do agree that overpopulation is a big issue, but here in Greenland there is such a small population of people that what they need to survive is marginal compared to feeding the rest of the world. And although some may have access to to responsibly farmed meat, billions of other people do not. Especially here, they have the choice to eat frozen, hormone filled meat, or fresh meat and fish from animals and fish that roam free. If you lived here in this remote region, you would not wish to lose the old way of life.

      April 30, 2012
    • Thanks for replying. Great pictures.

      As I said, if I was one of the community I am sure I would not want to lose that way of life.

      However, I was under the impression that scientific studies were holding out that the Inuit did have a rather large impact on the population of Narwal. This is the reason for the restrictions. isn’t it? Ivory is not just used for tools or food, it is sold to(ahem) tourists.

      I totally agree with you that if there are communities responsibly hunting for survival then why should anybody interfere? However, the food argument is a similar argument the Japanese have been giving about their whale hunting and with a community in such good communication and as well educated as the Inuit are, this argument holds little weight.

      The Inuit are people, human beings, and as such they have choice. Is 800 people really that many? There were more people than that killed in Afghanistan in 2011. I don’t think we should be condescending the Inuit by treating them as any less than our equals.

      I couldn’t help noticing the self loading rifle, which I am sure was not honed from the rock up there and is probably as ‘traditional’ and ‘ethnic’ as a microwave oven! You have not yet mentioned the dynamite whale fishing that goes on, either.

      Your pictures and blog are great but please please don’t just fall for everybody on your way down and give us the fluffy view of things. These people ARE impacting other species and the ugly fact is that although we can learn lots from them, hunting rare animals is not one of those things.

      Have you run across any oil company workers up there yet, by the way?

      Keep it up, I’m enjoying the discussion.

      April 30, 2012
    • Jane #

      DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN? If your parents felt that way, you wouldn’t be here! Strange concept isn’t it. Our greatest concern now is the demise of the honey bee. You may just want to reconsider that automartic weapon?

      May 4, 2012
    • Yes, it is an ‘unnatural’ concept and I suppose I was being a little bit provocative. However, one of the suspected reasons for the decline of the honey bee, which, if it disappeared altogether, would be disastrous, is the use of pesticides and GM crops. People who use these devices will tell you they have to, to produce enough food to cover demand at a low enough price to make a profit. Why is there such high demand at such a price – too many people with not enough means to pay for it at the ‘correct’ price. Other possible honey bee killers – mobile phones – too many people. There is already high unemployment in most western countries. Why? Too many people, too few jobs. Governments want us to reproduce like rabbits because they need to balance their books and pay for all the old people who can’t provide for themselves. Without several acres, nobody can look after themselves, really. There are not enough ‘several acres’ to go around, even now, and the population just keeps on growing. We’re using up water and natural resources in an unsustainable way and mining rocks from space won’t help in time!

      Don’t take my word for it, listen to this intelligence and experience:

      I don’t understand your last sentence wrt the automatic weapon, can you explain?

      May 4, 2012
  16. I recently saw a program on National Geographic on this very topic, hunting for pleasure vs sustenance. You have put forth a very compelling story of the Inuit and their way of life. Kudos for that!

    April 30, 2012
  17. Mama Leslee #

    Extremely well written and meaningful.
    thank you.

    April 30, 2012
  18. There is such a difference between hunting for sustenance and hunting for a delicacy. It’s such a different act and should not be grouped together and mistaken for the same issue. This is an amazing story. You are making their voices heard! S

    April 30, 2012
  19. Lovely Photos!

    April 30, 2012
  20. Outstanding photos and story. Thank you for bringing your writing and pictures to the world.

    April 30, 2012
  21. Rosanna #

    I abhor hunting for pleasure and cannot understand how killing a thriving animal can be pleasurable. But I have long respected the Inuits and their way of life – it is, as you say, living in harmony with nature. How sad that they have to fight to continue this way of life.

    Great blog!

    April 30, 2012
  22. There is a real thin balance between trying to protect animals from real exploitation, and let these people live their ancestral way of life, which is probably the only one suitable for this area!
    The consumption of “our products” such as frozen lamb etc. will make this old way of life senseless, and lead people to leave this area. Really interesting article, you really give me the envy to get there, and encounter these people and this place!
    Thanks for sharing

    April 30, 2012
  23. Thank you for inviting me to tag along in your wonderful journey. Your tough, textured, and vibrant photos touch my heart and head and make me want to be as courageous as you are.

    April 30, 2012
  24. Beautiful Photos!

    April 29, 2012
  25. There are some real life in these photos, and in this place. Interesting post and nice photo documentary.

    April 29, 2012

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