At the 2014 Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on Monday, the Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq mesmerized an audience with a short but substantial live performance, won the $30,000 annual award for her significant album Animism and finally sealed the deal with a controversial acceptance speech.
In what she undersold as a "quick side note," the Nunavut-raised artist took a second out from thanking her record label and producers – Toronto's Six Shooter Records and Jesse Zubot, respectively – to promote indigenous hunting. "People should wear and eat seal as much as possible," Tagaq said. Displaying her seal-fur armbands, the singer added that seal meat was delicious, before closing with an F-bombed message to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Asked on Tuesday to clarify her remarks, Tagaq admitted to having a "big mouth," and said that when she only has seconds to say how she feels, "something sharp will come out." She told The Globe that her pointed comment was "very specifically targeted at the seal ban," adding that she believed animal-welfare groups are "100-per-cent necessary."
But when it was pointed out to her that PETA's campaign is against the commercial harvest of seal in Newfoundland and Labrador, Tagaq held firm in her position. "There is a relative level of poverty in Newfoundland as well," she said. "Those protesters are taking food out of kids' mouths."
In May of this year, Canada lost its bid to have a European Union ban on seal products overturned, with the World Trade Organization's appeals process upholding a EU decision that connected the trade ban to moral objections against the seal hunt.
Asked to respond to Tagaq's comments, PETA issued the following statement: "PETA was surprised by Tanya's ill-informed rant because we've never campaigned against the indigenous hunt," said Dan Matthews, a vice-president of the organization. "Our fight is – and always has been – against the East Coast commercial slaughter, which is run by white people who bilk Canadians for millions in tax dollars in order to prop up the non-existent seal trade."
Matthews clarified that the international bans which PETA had successfully lobbied for, such as those in Europe, exempted the type of sustainable indigenous hunts in Canada's North. "Tanya should stop posing her baby with a dead seal and read more," Matthews added, referencing an incident earlier this year, wherein Tagaq posted a photograph of her baby daughter next to a freshly killed seal on Twitter.
"I endured abuse for three or four months afterward," she told The Globe on Tuesday.
"I'm not against animals," the musician continued. "They are us. We are them. We are meat. We're the same as them."