Pro­test­ers, First Na­tions not al­ways on same page

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FORUM - CHRIS NELSON

Be­fore Bri­tish Columbia’s First Na­tions ally them­selves too closely with the eco-war­riors of Green­peace in the on­go­ing strug­gle op­pos­ing the Trans Mountain pipe­line, they’d be well served talk­ing to their In­dige­nous friends in the Arc­tic.

Yes, that would be the Inuit whose youngsters now com­mit sui­cide at a rate near the high­est on the planet and 11 times the na­tional av­er­age, and where TB still flour­ishes and un­em­ploy­ment reigns supreme.

Ask those folk about Green­peace and you might get a star­tling an­swer re­gard­ing the last big pub­lic­ity campaign our in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists sunk their teeth into.

Or, in­stead, sim­ply watch Alethea Ar­naquq-Baril’s 2016 doc­u­men­tary An­gry Inuk about the Inuit seal hunt and the decades-old con­flict with south­ern an­i­mal rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

The anti-fur campaign was led by Green­peace, which found the per­fect mar­ket­ing and fundrais­ing tool with graphic pho­tos of Cana­dian seal­ers blood­ily bash­ing the heads of in­no­cent white seal pups back in the 1970s. That cer­tainly got the Euro­peans to no­tice — heck, Brigitte Bar­dot was apoplec­tic. So, by 1983, seal skin and fur was banned.

The prob­lem was the Inuit in the high Arc­tic never hunted that type or age of seal. But that was se­man­tics to the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. The ban and re­sult­ing col­lapse of the fur trade would be cat­a­strophic. It be­came known as The Great De­pres­sion.

When the ban went into ef­fect, the av­er­age in­come of an Inuit seal hunter in Res­o­lute Bay fell from $54,000 to $1,000. The North­west Ter­ri­to­ries gov­ern­ment es­ti­mated 18 out of 20 vil­lages lost 60 per cent of their com­mu­ni­ties’ in­come.

“When anti-seal­ing came along and the hunters couldn’t even feed their fam­i­lies any­more, the sui­cide rate sky­rock­eted,” re­called Ar­naquq-Baril when dis­cussing her doc­u­men­tary some years ago.

“You can see the graph of the sui­cide rates, and it was al­ready climb­ing se­verely, but you can see the spike in ‘83 when the Euro­pean Union banned white coat harp seal pup skins — which is not what we hunt, but the whole mar­ket crashed.”

The Inuit even got an apol­ogy from Green­peace. It arrived three decades af­ter their campaign caused such cul­tural dev­as­ta­tion.

In 2014, they said sorry and that the campaign was aimed specif­i­cally at the com­mer­cial seal­ing in­dus­try, not the “small-scale, sub­sis­tence hunt­ing car­ried out by the north In­dige­nous and coastal peo­ple.”

“The con­se­quences, though un­in­ten­tional, were far-reach­ing,” was how the en­vi­ron­men­tal group phrased it.

That’s the same bunch that re­cently jumped atop a mas­sive Kinder Mor­gan drill in Delta, B.C., in protest, and last month un­veiled a “Crudeau Oil” ban­ner in cen­tral Lon­don, Eng­land, dur­ing a visit by the prime min­is­ter.

The Cana­dian oil­sands is to­day ’s equiv­a­lent of the 1970s seal hunters for en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

Mean­while in Cal­gary, the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Abo­rig­i­nal Busi­ness re­cently hon­oured the Fort McKay Na­tion with the an­nual Abo­rig­i­nalE­co­nomicDevel­op­ment Corporation award.

Lo­cated in the heart of the oil­sands ter­ri­tory, the na­tion re­cently pro­vided the lion’s share of a $503-mil­lion in­vest­ment into a joint oil stor­age project with Sun­cor that will pay back over decades to come. Through hard work and smarts, the na­tion has zero un­em­ploy­ment and an in­di­vid­ual in­come $20,000 higher than the Cana­dian av­er­age.

JP Gladu, the coun­cil’s head, un­der­stands In­dige­nous peo­ple take se­ri­ously their role as keep­ers of the land. But he also knows many na­tives work in the en­ergy, forestry and min­ing busi­nesses. And he re­mem­bers what hap­pened to the Inuit.

“We used to have a thriv­ing busi­ness har­vest­ing furs, but when the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists shut down the fur trade glob­ally, that im­pacted our com­mu­nity, so we had to find a new way of gen­er­at­ing a liv­ing, and in these cir­cum­stances, it was the oil and gas sec­tor,” ex­plained Gladu.

Yes, the same sec­tor that Green­peace now has its sights set upon. His­tory may not re­peat, but it has a very nasty habit of rhyming.

Chris Nelson is a Cal­gary writer.


In this April 7, 2018 file photo, Cedar Ge­orge-Parker ad­dresses the crowd where pro­test­ers op­posed to the Kinder Mor­gan Inc. Trans Mountain pipe­line ex­ten­sion project defy a court or­der and block an en­trance to the com­pany's prop­erty in Burn­aby, Canada. Some fear an ex­panded pipe­line will bring greater dam­age than that caused by a 2007 pipe­line rup­ture in Burn­aby when an excavator hit the pipe­line, spew­ing crude oil, which coated nearby homes and seeped into the har­bour.

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