Last week, artist and performer Tanya Tagaq won the Polaris Music Prize which is an award given out each year that, “celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music.” The reward is $30,000 cash and that’s about all I’ve ever known about it. Unless you’re a serious musician or have your finger on the pulse of the Canadian music scene (I don’t) or listen to CBC radio regularly, most Canadians don’t know what the Polaris Music Prize is, much less heard of any of the bands or artists that have been nominated for it. If you think the Juno awards fly faintly on the radar of recognition, just mention Polaris to someone and watch their brows furrow as they try to recall if that’s a new drug for erectile dysfunction or an insurance company provider.
That said, the Polaris Prize is a pretty big fucking deal whether the general public realizes it or not. You get recognition, probably a boost in record sales, media exposure, a gala night in Toronto with your peers and fans and if you win, thirty grand in cash.
And you get a microphone.
When Tanya Tagaq took the stage to accept the award last Monday, September 22, she thanked her fans and her family and then said this: “On a quick side note, people should wear and eat seal as much as possible. If you imagine an indigenous culture thriving and surviving on a sustainable resource, wearing seal is.” She wrapped up by adding, “And eating it – it’s delicious. Fuck PETA,” referring to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, everyone’s favourite target when wanting to write-off animal rights as “crazy” so they don’t have to examine their own choices.
I am all for using your voice to speak your mind. I am all for using your position to do what you can to get whatever message you feel needs to be conveyed; more often than not, it’s good to provoke and agitate, otherwise nothing would ever change. However, there is a way to do that without being confrontational and I don’t care what your message is, when you say, Fuck this thing or Fuck that person or Fuck that organization, those are fighting words and you’d better be prepared for a reaction. Reactions are normal and people are entitled to have them; they can get the dialogue going. But don’t be a dumbass and act surprised when it happens. Even worse? Don’t blame the people reacting when they are simply responding to YOUR WORDS. That you said. In public. Into a microphone. At an awards ceremony. That was being broadcast.
For starters, she was misinformed. PETA has never campaigned against the indigenous seal hunt, just the commercial one. The difference between the two is quite different. To quote the International Fund for Animal Welfare, “For example, Inuit in the Canadian Arctic hunt fewer than 1,000 harp seals, mostly adults, during the summer months. This is far removed from the commercial hunt which takes place months earlier (typically from November to June) and slaughters tens or hundreds of thousands of harp seals less than three months old.” Not only that, the commercial slaughter typically skins the seals right there on the ice flow and leaves the flesh to rot; the indigenous hunt at least uses every single part of the animal’s carcass. In fact, Canada could exempt the indigenous hunt while still banning the commercial one, as the rest of the European Union has done, but it has chosen not to do that.
“I had a scrolling screen of 1200 missing and murdered indigenous women at the Polaris gala but people are losing their minds over seals.”
That’s when I got pissed off. Hold the phone there, Tanya. YOU are the one who decided to use that moment to say, “Fuck PETA” which you had to know would draw attention and illicit a response (activists in general are not known for their shyness). Your comment was specific to seals and directly to an animal rights organization.
In other words: YOU BROUGHT IT UP.
Don’t turn it around and make those same people the enemy for talking about seals and not the missing and murdered women. As far as I’m concerned, Tanya Tagaq drew the attention away from an equally important issue by choosing to talk about something else. People were not “losing their minds over seals” out of nowhere – she quite literally started it. I don’t mind her having a different opinion or experience or life perspective. I DO mind her shirking the responsibility of starting this shit-storm in the first place by trying to deflect the blame onto the people who happen to disagree with a very specific comment she made about a very specific issue while cursing a very specific organization.