The Native Response
In his book Second Nature: The Animal Rights Controversy (CBC Enterprises, 1985), Allan Herscovici described the threat of the anti-harvest campaign to native peoples:
The mounting campaign against fur trapping is following many of the same patterns as did that against the seal hunt: as government moves to minimize cruelty and the danger of overexploitation, the animal-rights stance comes increasingly to the fore. There are strong indications that animal-rights groups will make fur trapping the central issue for the rest of the 1980s. The campaign against trapping may have severe repercussions on native groups and others who still live close to the land, and work to the detriment of the interests even of the wildlife it claims to be protecting.
Animal-rights advocates say that factory farming and laboratory-animal science cause by far the most suffering to animals, but because they strike deep into every sector of the society, they are unlikely soon to become popular campaigns. Instead, they serve to bolster the animal-rights attack against native trappers and others who still retain a close relationship to nature.Native trappers in Canada have more to lose than any other segment of the fur industry from a successful campaign to end trapping, and they have a much less powerful economic lobby. They are concerned that governments and the fur industry will find it convenient to ban trapping to appease the anti-fur activists and protect the more powerful ranching interests in the fur industry. They are also concerned that the Canadian government has failed to learn important lessons from the sealing issue. Trapper education and more humane trapping methods will not satisfy the animal rights groups who are gaining control of the campaign and are working to end the fur trade. Financial and diplomatic efforts must also promote the fur industry and support trapping as a valid and essential livelihood.
The most successful efforts to defend Canada's fur industry have been undertaken by native people through organizations such as the Aboriginal Trappers Federation of Canada (ATFC) and Indigenous Survival International (ISI). The ATFC, formed in 1984, has worked to publicize the importance of trapping to the traditional aboriginal economy and to inform native trappers about the threat posed by the anti-fur campaign. In 1985, the ATFC sent representatives to the Frankfurt Fur Fair, one of Europe's most important fur shows, where it set up an information booth and display to show that Canada's native trappers support a vital economy and culture. As a member of the Fur Institute of Canada, the ATFC has a voice in the development of new trapping systems and in the preparation of public information materials.
ISI has built on the solidarity developed by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference among northern aboriginal peoples. ISl's first major project was a fact-finding tour in Europe. Ten ISI representatives were to meet European politicians and members of organizations that support native issues. ISI staff had received promises of funding from External Affairs and promises of assistance from Canadian embassies and posts. The day before the entourage left Canada, External Affairs withdrew its support for the tour without explanation or apology. Weeks later, officials confessed that their minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark, had feared raising the profile of the issue. On 9 October 1985, commenting on External's failure to appreciate the urgency of the issue, the Honourable David Porter, Minister of Renewable Resources in the Yukon Territorial Government, told the Yukon Legislative Assembly:
It gives you the impression that they are not going to react until the wolf is at the door, when the issue is about to overwhelm them.
Funding has been a serious problem for these native groups. Their members' resources cannot begin to rival the millions of dollars anti-fur groups spend on advertising, direct mail, and lobbying. ISI requested funding of approximately $800 000 to cover its first-year costs of travel, staff, office and special projects. DIAND has provided $150 000 per year for three years for special projects, trapper education, and disbursements to other groups working to counter the anti-harvest campaign. DIAND has provided some project specific funds for the ATFC as well as for ISI, but these organizations have had to waste much staff time and energy in securing these funds. DIAND is reluctant to provide operating funds because such support would imply an extended and permanent commitment to these organizations.
Notwithstanding the limited funds, these native organizations are beginning to accomplish what government cannot: they are challenging the public to treat native peoples with justice, fairness, and respect for their ways of life.
In January 1985, ISI and the World Wildlife Fund appealed to Greenpeace International to honour the commitment to aboriginal peoples that was part of Greenpeace's founding philosophy. When its founders first spoke out against European civilization's disregard for the environment and its interdependent ecosystems, they held up the respect and reverence of native peoples for natural systems, and their ability to live in harmony with nature, as models for conservation. They invited conservationists and native peoples to unite as "Warriors of the Rainbow," borrowing the name from a Cree legend that describes the banding together of all races of mankind to defend an earth despoiled by man.
ISI's appeal led Greenpeace International to suspend its protests against the fur trade. This spring, Greenpeace announced that it is withdrawing from the anti-fur campaign in recognition of the difficulties that an environmental organization faces in running head to head with native peoples' organizations.
Funded by its member organizations and with the help of groups in Europe that are sympathetic to the concerns of aboriginal peoples, members of ISI have travelled to Europe and met with members of the European Parliament and its politicians, with government officials, and with animal welfare organizations. Their objective is to protect markets for furs and fur products produced by native peoples and to urge the defeat of bans on trapping and other political actions detrimental to their interests. ISI has pressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Working Group on Indigenous Populations, to include rights to harvest renewable resources in its Body of Principles on Indigenous Rights.
In Canada, ISI has explained the threat the anti-harvest campaign poses to native peoples in briefs to the Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada. It made two presentations to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and submitted a brief to the Special Joint Committee on Canada's International Relations.
In January 1986, at Chisasibi in northern Québec, ISI convened an assembly of indigenous peoples from Canada, Alaska, and Greenland to discuss issues related to renewable resource harvests in these three countries. The meeting focused on aboriginal rights, and the relation of traditional subsistence activities to those rights. Participants discussed ways to respond to the many challenges to subsistence activities and the survival of native cultures challenges such as the anti-harvest campaign, non-renewable resource development on traditional lands, non-native management renewable resources, and the growth of non-native demands for access to traditional native resources.
It is clear from the meeting at Chisasibi that ISI and other native organizations will continue to use whatever funds are available to defend their right to live, and make a living, as trappers. At Chisasibi they resolved to monitor anti-harvest activity, to publicize the dependence of native cultures and economies on continued renewable resource harvests, to press the Canadian government to support their activities, to explore possibilities for co-operation on projects with government and industry, and to continue to develop support among environmental groups and other organizations concerned with the welfare of animals. It is equally clear from the Canadian government's lack of action on this issue that native peoples must act on their own behalf to defend their right to live according to their own cultural values and traditions.