The Fur Fight

 In December 1984, Canada's Interdepartmental Steering Committee on Humane Trapping circulated a draft of its confidential report, "Federal Communications Strategy in Defence of the Fur Trade." In this report, the committee acknowledged that yet another of Canada's renewable resource industries is under attack:

 There are clear indications that international protest groups concerned with animal welfare are now turning their attention to the fur trade, after having succeeded in boycotting the Canadian harp seal hunt. Preparations have already been undertaken and isolated activities taken place which indicate that an organized attack on trapping, particularly the use of leg-hold traps, is about to be undertaken.
 Several of the organizations that protested against the seal hunt (some of them with new names) are spearheading the campaign against the international fur trade. Animal welfare groups are primarily concerned about the suffering of animals in traps, and are pressing government and trappers to find and use the most humane methods possible. But animal rights groups argue that killing animals by any means is immoral and are opposed to killing animals for fur. The tactics are similar to those employed against the seal hunt- emotional, evocative images of animals in traps, pictures of fur garments bleeding, and strong denunciations by celebrities of the wearing of fur. The more extreme groups aim to create widespread public disapproval of the fur trade, to apply political pressure to strictly curtail it, and thereby to destroy markets and end the trade in furs.

Canada is a principal target of the campaign to end trapping and the fur trade. This country produces many of the world's finest furs and exports furs to the United States, Western Europe, and, recently, to Japan. The consequences of a successful campaign would be felt throughout the Canadian economy, but especially in the North, where every community participates to some extent in the harvest of animals for furs. The fur trade, including the processing, manufacturing, and retailing sectors, as well as the primary production of pelts, contributes $600 million to $1 billion per year to the Canadian economy.

Like sealing, the fur trade is of particular importance to native peoples. Nearly 50 000 native trappers support their families entirely or supplement their incomes through trapping. Related activities such as pelt preparation and handicraft production provide additional income. Moreover, hunting and trapping provide meat that cannot be replaced adequately by costly and less nutritious imports. The sale of pelts and products is often the only source of the cash required to support this lifestyle, even at the subsistence level.

 Native peoples in Canada have rights to hunt, fish, and trap that are recognized and enshrined in the Constitution. These rights are the basis of their claims to land and resources. Through land claims negotiations they are working to regain their share of control in the conservation and management of renewable resources. The loss of the trapping economy not only threatens native cultures, but also endangers the claims of native peoples to the land and resources needed to sustain these cultures.

Native peoples are affronted to find themselves described as "barbarians" and their traditional reliance on the land and its resources questioned and condemned by urban activists who claim to speak on behalf of the animals. The respect for and stewardship of wildlife that European conservationists once found admirable and unique is now ignored and misrepresented by the emotional and sensational tone of the anti-fur campaign.

 Typical of this tone is a comment by Bryn Jones, Chairman of Greenpeace Ltd., on a Canadian national television news-interview programme last autumn. He said that native people, if unchecked, would wipe out all the wild animals in Canada. Responding to this statement, Georges Erasmus, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a Canadian representative of Indigenous Survival International, said:

Well, that's the funny thing about all of this. The heart of this movement has started in large industrial countries, places where wild animals have been depleted, and they are now looking to the first-world areas where aboriginal people are still predominantly traditional, and where we still have our wildlife.

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