Inuit seal harvesters hit the ground running with new Ottawa business

ReconSeal Inuksiuti harvests from the Magdalen Islands.

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Yoanis Menges with son Maël (centre) and Ruben Komangapik, celebrate Maël’s first successful seal hunt on Oct. 24. (Facebook photo courtesy of ReconSeal Inuksiuti via Nunatsiaq News)

It has been just over one year since ReconSeal Inuksiuti formally launched as a business, and its founders are busier than ever.

Yoanis Menges, an artist and hunter from Quebec, and Ruben Komangapik a sculptor, artist and hunter from Nunavut, harvest and deliver fresh country food to people in Ottawa.

Like most startup businesses, the founders pull double duty. For them, that means working as both hunters and business operators.

“We have no grants, no money from the government, no nothing to help us,” said Menges, who took a break from preparing for a hunt to speak by phone. “It is not so easy.”

Menges and Komangapik hunt grey seal off of the coast of Quebec’s Magdalen Islands year-round, where the seal population is thriving.

Blending traditional and contemporary approaches to the seal hunt is ReconSeal’s way of moving beyond talk of reconciliation between settler and Inuit cultures, to mending the rift between seal hunters from the North and south.

“We are both learning from each other,” said Komangapik. “Both cultures have their own ways of dealing with the seals, and we are taking both cultures to make it happen.”

ReconSeal follows the Canadian government’s three-step process for humane harvesting of the seal. The meat and skin are processed immediately using traditional Inuit methods, before being vacuum sealed and frozen to preserve freshness for shipping.

For an organization like Tunngasuvvingat Inuit, which is committed to serving and supporting Inuit and culture in the south, having safe and sustainable access to country food like seal is vital.

Ordering country food like caribou and Arctic char is pretty straightforward, said Rhonda Huneault, manager of the food security programs at TI, but sourcing a steady supply of seal from Nunavut has been more challenging.

Huneault, along with her team of two full-time employees, is responsible for coordinating the purchase, order and inventory of all country food for the whole of the organization, including the greater Toronto area, and demand often outstrips supply.

When ReconSeal approached TI with their business idea, Hunealt was open to giving the product a try.

“It is a very unique business, and a really cool experience to work with a hunter who is local to us in the south,” said Huneault in an interview. “We have never had access to this amount of seal before.”

Working with TI as a client has given ReconSeal the chance to work out the kinks of product preparation and delivery, something that will become critically important as the business looks to  expand its reach to urban Inuit communities in western Canada.

“I was always taught that hunting is for others,” said Komangapik. “Putting food in people’s stomachs, that is what ReconSeal is.”