In a couple of weeks, as part of his sentence, I’m going to work with a Young Offender. Because of some poor decisions on his part, this young man was given a hefty fine, lost his trapping and hunting privileges for a year, must redo the 28 hour Alberta Standard Trapping course, will spend two days with me and then write an essay describing his experiences. In my opinion the sentence is certainly commiserate with the crime. His sentence could have been considerably stiffer, but luckily for the young offender the Alberta Game Warden recognized the potential and desire for a wilderness career in this young man. Instead of a routine punishment, he tried to come up with a more imaginative sentence that would help him better understand the importance of good decisions and hopefully prevent a train wreck down the road. I really hope this works because there is a lot more at stake here than just a simple fine and a suspension of hunting or trapping privileges.
Over the years, my work in the fur industry has taken me across Canada and beyond. It’s been a very rich experience and as time goes by my own understanding of what is at stake has become much clearer. It really hit home for me in late June, 2012 when Ali and I were in Iqaluit, Nunavut. We both had our reasons for going. For me it was the Fur Institute of Canada’s Annual General Meeting. For Ali it was the fishing. Every morning I would head downstairs for another meeting. Ali would take her borrowed fishing pole and tackle and hop in a taxi. She would go out to a nearby fishing hole and join other anglers scattered among the rocks and ten foot blocks of ice and pull hard fighting Arctic Char from the icy waters of the fast moving river. After a couple of hours she would bring a Char back and cook it and share it with her new friends. Apparently a person can make a lot of friends very quickly using this method.
With a little over 100,000 people living in mostly remote communities across Canada’s arctic the people up there often don’t have a strong voice on many social issues. Decisions made down south can have a profound effect on lives in the far north. Up there hunting and trapping is not a recreational pastime. It’s the very foundation of an ingenious and complex culture that has allowed thousands of generations of Inuit’s to live in one of the harshest environments in the world. And largely it still does today.
While every community has at least one grocery store, don’t go looking for the vast selection of goods that we take for granted down south. Also be ready to pay dearly for whatever you pull off those shelves. All goods are brought in by air or by ship during a very narrow window in summer and the costs of transportation are high.
Ali’s new friends told her they preferred Iqaluit over smaller communities because here they could go to a grocery store and purchase a dozen items before they went through a $100.00. I’ve given this a lot of consideration these past few months, when I’m carrying two or even three bags of meat and fresh produce out of a store to my vehicle and the setback was maybe $40.00.
Culture, pride and history aside, the high cost of living in the arctic makes the harvesting of caribou, fish, and seals critical.
Iqaluit is a fairly compact town with a population of around 7000. When we flew in the land was just beginning to show signs of spring. The aforementioned river was running and for about five hundred meters out, the bay was broken up and filled with vehicle size blocks of ice bobbing with the tide. Beyond that as far as the eye could see, Frobisher Bay was frozen solid with ten feet of ice. Residents said it would be another month before the ice went out and the channel was clear.
As soon as we were squared away at our hotel we walked through town and down to the beach. Scattered along the beach here and there were seal pelts. Residents shoot seals for meat but thanks to the warped agenda of influential animal rights activists and the unquestionably hypocritical ethics of the European Union seal pelts have become all but worthless. The meat is consumed but the beautiful pelts are discarded. As a trapper, seeing this waste was hard to understand. Higher up from the beach was a graveyard. There are not many places to dig on Baffin Island and this was an old grave yard. But what struck me was the outsized number of fresh graves for a town of this size.
In the next few days of meetings I met some incredible people. Through exceptional interpreters I heard elders speak sincerely and eloquently about how they had trusted biologists and others who asked them to accept very small harvest quotas for many arctic species including polar bears. The idea was that science would prevail over traditional and local knowledge, but once population numbers were established quotas would be increased and the Inuit could be assured of a long and sustainable way of making a living. Now decades later most of the people in the arctic community realized that they have been screwed by people who asked them to trust their judgement. They are upset and asked how it could be right that while they could consume the meat of a seal, they had to discard the pelt. A pelt, which in times past, was worth ten items in a store. The sense of desperation and betrayal to the Inuit way of life and dignity came through loud and clear.
I spoke to a retired conservation officer who had come to the arctic as a young man from Saskatchewan thirty seven years ago. He fell in love with an Inuit lady and the land and now thirty seven years later he is just as passionate about both. He told me that the first three or four years after they were married they lived on the land with his wife’s family hunting and trapping. In a quiet voice he said “We lived like human beings then but once the fur market crashed we had to come to town and find jobs”. The problem is there aren’t enough jobs in remote places for everyone and it puts a terrible strain on the social and economic fabric of northern communities. Often the outcome carries tragic consequences and most of this could be prevented by allowing them to live like human beings.
Down here animal rights activists bolstered by scientists searching for rock star status seem to give a good goddamn about little people living and dying in the arctic. In their opinion their cause is much greater and far nobler. They are ever watchful for opportunities and every time someone in the hunting or trapping community makes a poor decision it is broadcast to the world as another example of our lack of ethics and murderous ways. In a very real way it is murder.