Protesters, First Nations not always on same page
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.