KUUJJUAQ, Quebec (AP) – Canada’s governor general said Monday that sensational images of her eating a raw seal heart promoted a better understanding of the country’s North and its sealing industry.

Michaelle Jean, the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s head of state, gutted the seal and swallowed a slice of the mammal’s heart last week. Her actions came after the European Union voted last month to impose a ban on seal products on grounds that the seal hunt is cruel.

The photos raised eyebrows around the world, but Jean argued Monday that the display drew attention to Canada’s isolated northern Inuit communities, who rely on the hunt for their incomes.

What happened in this journey up north is quite amazing,” Jean said as she wrapped up her trip. “I’m very happy I was able to raise a lot of awareness about the North, about pressing social issues, about a way of life, about a culture.”

Animal rights activists said they were disgusted by Jean’s actions. But, supporters, including the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have saluted Jean’s gesture, and maintain that the hunt is humane.

Jean on Monday met local elders in a northern Quebec community where the incident again dominated much of the discussion.

“Just because you eat raw meat does not mean you are a savage,” said Anthony Ittoshat. “We are not savages. … We need to find a way to survive in this cold place.”

EU governments are to sign the ban into law on June 25th after the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to impose the measure. The rule offers narrow exemptions so Inuit communities from Canada, Greenland and elsewhere can continue traditional hunts, but it bars them from large-scale trading of their pelts and other seal goods in Europe.

AP-ES-06-01-09 1716EDT

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