The Wolf at the Door
The Anti-harvest Campaign Strikes at the
Heart of Northern Aboriginal Economies


By Shelagh Jane Woods


The Threat

At a conference convened by the Dene Nation in Yellowknife in 1984, indigenous peoples gathered to talk about their growing fear of the effects of the "anti-harvest" campaign, as they have come to call it, upon their livelihoods and their cultures. Stephen Kakfwi, president of the Dene Nation, warned the gathering about the power of the anti-harvest campaign:

 This force is potentially far more dangerous than the threat to our lands posed by resource developers and far more oppressing than colonial governments.
 The anti-harvest campaign aims to limit the commercial harvest of wildlife, although the specific interests of the individuals and organizations involved vary widely. Some are concerned with the welfare of animals and strive to ensure that animals are treated in as humane a fashion as possible. In general, this faction does not demand that there be no killing of animals for commercial gain, but calls for improvements in killing techniques and wildlife management. For example, this faction objected to the clubbing of whitecoat seals rather than to the hunt itself, and objects to the use of the leg-hold trap in the harvest of wild fur-bearing animals rather than to killing animals for fur.

Another faction of the anti-harvest campaign is concerned primarily with the rights of animals. Within this faction, some persons eschew all uses of animal products-feedlots and fur ranching as well as hunting and trapping; others argue that it is more evil to kill a wild animal for food or money than to raise animals specifically for slaughter.

The chief objective of the animal rights groups involved in the anti-harvest campaign is to destroy the world markets for seal pelts and furs. If they succeed, they will also destroy the traditional lifestyle of native peoples whose cultures, economies, and rights to land and resources depend on hunting, fishing, and trapping. The anti-sealing campaign has already destroyed markets for seal pelts, ending this important source of income not only for the fishermen of Labrador and Newfoundland, but also for Inuit communities in Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. An equally successful anti-fur campaign would cause the collapse of the only economy that enables native communities to maintain the physical and spiritual relationship to the land and wildlife that is at the heart of their cultures. Social assistance cannot compensate the loss of traditional and irreplaceable livelihoods. The cultural fabric of many native communities is already weakened. If the harvest of wildlife is lost, the fabric may disintegrate.

 At the 1984 conference in Yellowknife, native peoples from Canada, Alaska, and Greenland recognized that they alone are willing to take the lead in combatting the anti-harvest campaign. Major markets for products of the Inuit seal hunt had been lost and the effects on Inuit communities were, and remain, dramatic and disastrous. It was evident that the groups that had successfully destroyed these markets were turning their attention to trapping. The Government of Canada had bungled its meagre attempts to defend Canada's sealing industry and was showing great reluctance to protect the fur trade. The Yellowknife conference resulted in the formation of Indigenous Survival International (ISI), representing native peoples in Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, and the beginning of a native peoples' campaign to defend their cultures and livelihoods by protecting their right to harvest wildlife and to maintain international markets for seal and fur products.

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