ENGO Colonial Activism that Perpetuates Indigenous Poverty

A traditional practise of the Inuit is to never waste the food or materials provided by the animals they bring home.

There is a serious problem with how some organizations within the nonprofit sector have unethically attained financial stability. This article focuses on Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGO) that have raised or continue to raise money off anti-seal hunting campaigns, because they have contributed to the current state of destitution a majority of Inuit people face in their homelands. The anti-seal hunting campaigns are perpetuating poverty; to be more specific, colonial enforced poverty.

Capitalizing on Unethical Campaigns

ENGOs such as PETA, GREENPEACE, ATLANTIC ANTI SEAL HUNTING CAMPAIGN, and IFAW, among others, have created financially lucrative campaigns to stop the seal hunts and the commercial selling of seal-related products. These campaigns are cash cows that have helped turn these organizations into global entities and provided job security to many well-intentioned but misguided individuals. Their anti-sealing campaigns have come at the cost of the Inuit people and their traditional way of life.

Devastation to Communities

How does financial peril affect different parts of the world? When the bust of the Oilsands happened in 2014-2016, job losses went up, marriages fell apart, mental health issues arose from the crisis, and suicide rates rose in the Wood Buffalo region in Alberta. In the 2008 financial crisis, due to job loss, instability, among other factors, suicide rates again went up.

“In 1983-85, when the ban went into effect, the average income of an Inuit seal hunter in Resolute Bay fell from Can$54,000 to $1,000. The government of the Northwest Territories estimated that nearly 18 out of 20 Inuit villages lost almost 60% of their communities’ income and life in these areas has not gotten any better since. The region is plagued with the highest unemployment rate in Canada, and the highest suicide rates in the world. A second seal ban, enforced by the European Union in 2010, only exacerbated these issues.

This isn’t a campaign that just saves baby seals; this campaign has financially crippled the Inuit economy.  You cannot separate this fact from life. No matter how many of these organizations do goodwill missions, no matter what they do for other nations, it does not erase or negate what they have done to the Inuit.

A Problematic Apology

Out of the organizations listed, GREENPEACE* is the only organization that has stopped its campaign and apologized to the Inuit people, but it’s a very lazy, problematic apology. They haven’t returned any money to the Inuit communities, and they haven’t created a global re-education campaign in regards to sealing, with an emphasis on ethical cultural practices of the Inuit, and the negative impacts of anti-sealing campaigns on their communities. They offer no financial support to diverse Inuit businesses as they rebuild into the world of commercial sealing.

Their website reads, Greenpeace is completely against the commercial hunting of seals for profit. We always will be. But the large-scale, commercial hunt is a world away from the traditional practices of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. In fact, Indigenous communities have shown time and again that they understand how to protect the Arctic ecosystem they call home, and their hunting practices have never been a threat to seal or whale populations. They do not hunt seal pups, and their hunt is conducted with respect for the animal. They hunt because it is a crucial way to sustain themselves and their families in the harsh Arctic environment. We respect their right to continue this tradition.  

Let’s break this apart for this second. What about Inuit self determination and their inherent right to decide what is in the best interest for their own people? In their “apology”, Greenpeace is dictating what is acceptable and not acceptable for the Inuit to do. They state that they support the traditional Inuit practice of hunting, but they don’t support an Inuit-led commercial economy based off of their cultural practices and if you were to ask, the Inuit know of a way to make commercial sealing a sustainable endeavor.

Perpetuating False Ideas About Inuit

Again, Indigenous folks are stuck in the image of a noble savage caricature. Inuit hunting traditionally for just food and clothing as a pre-contact practice is a good Inuit person and must be protected. An Inuit person creating an economy for themselves and their people by evolving an older practice and making money is a bad thing that Greenpeace wants no part of. I don’t personally believe the group that has worked tirelessly for decades to fuck over the Inuit people, by destroying the global demand for anything seal related, are now or will ever be in a position to tell the Inuit what they can and can’t do.

Outsiders entering into an area with no comprehension, bereft of understanding of all local cultural practices, who somehow think they know what’s best for a group of people, is evidence ENGOs are colonizers. I’ll also point out apologies don’t put food on the table, money in your pocket to purchase gas for snowmobiles, or bullets in guns so Inuit can actually go out and hunt and carry on their traditional practices. Apologies don’t absolve Greenpeace for the lives lost in poverty, all because of their ego and desire to line their pockets and “save the seals”.  Why haven’t the Inuit nations benefited from their campaigns? Hearing a land acknowledgement from groups like Greenpeace is a tragic comedy at best.

Blaming Inuit for the Acts of Settlers

When you think of seal hunting the image you have been conditioned to immediately see is a white seal pup with big beautiful black eyes being clubbed to death, isn’t it? The Inuit traditionally do not do that. So who did? Settlers, poachers and those motivated by global fashion trends of exotic white fur.

I know you want to help the little white baby seal that is being brutally clubbed to death, but that practice was never a traditional Inuit practise; it’s also been banned in Canada since 1987. Like other Indigenous nations on Turtle Island^ and around the world, hunting for sustenance and the continued existence of your people is determined by the availability of fully grown animals to survive. Anthropologists have dated this practice of seal hunting by the Inuit to at least 4,000 years and I personally believe they’ve been hunting and caring for the North a lot longer than that; it’s in their creation stories.

Within that time, they’ve cultivated a relationship with the animals and the land around them and it’s delicate and deeply rooted. Today, species around the planet have been overharvested and encroached upon. They’re collapsing to extinction in record numbers. The Inuit have always known of this potential collapse and if you take some time and are fortunate enough, they might share some of those ancestral teachings with you that revolve around respect and balance. It’s not my place to share the little I know; I don’t want to give the wrong idea or impression. Just make some time to listen to them and then be prepared to be blown away with vast amounts of knowledge you cannot find anywhere else in the world that stretches back to the birth of Inuit consciousness.

Applying Logic

If you are dependent on a specific animal for food and clothing, killing the babies of those animals does not ensure the survival of your people. Once that animal is gone, you are gone. Let’s try to put this in perspective. If you’re going to bring home food and were going to make clothing from an animal for your entire family and members of the community, would you:

a) kill innumerable amounts of little babies with a tiny surface area of thin little coats (this practise of killing babies would effectively annihilate any chance for that species to continue living) to make some thick fur clothing (which would require multiple layers and therefore multiple baby seals) not to mention you also have to feed your entire family with little baby seal meat; or

b) kill a full-sized seal that has thick skin and thick, aged fur?

What makes the most sense to you?

Conservation

There are some similarities here that remind me of my own family and my people; The Dene. Depending on where you are, we have moose, deer, caribou and elk. My family loves moose; it is practically our staple food because you can hunt one or two and feed multiple families for months at a time. And we have a similar practice of not carrying out the mass slaughter of calves and bringing that species to extinction, because our people are not idiots, nor are we wasteful. We also don’t generally hunt deer; it’s kind of a taste thing but it’s also more of a size thing too. Deer are smaller and as such, they provide less meat and less sustenance for the community.

The Inuit tend to hunt either the adult ringed seal or the adult harp seals, and I have to emphasize adult because when they are hunted and harvested, they are adult seals. You’ve been lead to believe in a lie, and the originator of this lie? The anti sealing NGO’s/ENGO’s.

Personally, I don’t know how they can justify their job security at the expense of an entire group of people. I do not know how they can sleep at night knowing they’ve exploited the Inuit and subjected them to a socioeconomic crisis they created, which leads to addiction, violence, suicide, poverty, and cultural erasure. Perhaps it’s because colonizers have selective short memories or they have some deep-rooted cognitive dissonance. I wonder about Indigenous ENGOs who know this ongoing history and still partner with these agencies; Indigenous activists that work with, defend and boost the social profiles of Greenpeace and other colonial-minded ENGO activists, who use them to wipe away what colonial-minded ENGOs see as the repulsive anamnesis, the collective memory from their past.

We are dealing with some sinister characters that enter into our communities posing as friends  and allies; some even help fund our projects. And this wouldn’t be such a terrible practice if they did anything of meaning to undo all of the horrendous shit done to our Northern peoples, but they haven’t, and they carry on like abusive family members, armed with money, smiles, jokes and a hope that no one brings up the cruel nature of their true character. These organizations know exactly what they have done and are doing and the people working for them know as well. They are all banking on us not calling out their disguised vile nature, broken promises and the track record of tragedy they perpetuate.

ENGOs Need Indigenous People

As Indigenous Peoples, here’s the kicker – they still need us, they have campaign promises they have to honor about working with Indigenous people. In fact, the strongest thing they can align themselves with is our Treaties, which protect the land and are rooted within the Canadian constitution. Our victories can also be their victories. We can tell them no, we can tell them to clean up their backyards and fix the mess they have created, we can force their hand to do something meaningful with integrity; all we have to do is rescind our welcoming into our lands, tell them they are no longer welcome. This is a much-needed call for solidarity to really help the Inuit. They need us. We also need them and we need an intellectual culling of this misinformation about seal hunting.

If you want more information about the plight, I implore you to watch the documentary Angry Innuk. https://www.nfb.ca/film/angry_inuk/

Also, follow and support Alethea Arnaquq-bariland @Alethea_aggiuqn and Tanya Tagaq @Tagaq on twitter, as they have knowledge and lived experience on this subject that far surpasses mine.

*Greenpeace Assets and Revenue

^ North America

Gitz writes about cultural appropriation and how it leads to cultural erosion and cultural erasure here.

Gitz Crazyboy is a Siksikatsitapi (Blackfoot) and Dene youth facilitator. Gitz works with youth and creates youth-focused programs.  Gitz’s passion and purpose is helping the next generation and he has held many positions within the youth education profession. Ever the activist for the environment and Indigenous rights, Gitz is known for his leadership and participation in the Idle No More movement. A storyteller to his core, he has always had a deep connection to traditional teachings since his mother read to him as a child, and continues to be guided by the ancient wisdom the Elders carry.  Along with writing, Gitz loves to create music and enjoys being introduced to new sounds. Currently Gitz is actively reconnecting with his Blackfoot roots.  He believes the truth of who we are is in the truth and mysteries our ancestors carried – through ceremonies, songs, medicine, love and laughter.