An Email Exchange
As an outspoken animal rights activist online, I get many comments. Here is perhaps the most interesting one I’ve ever received as well as my response to it.
The email is from a First Nations woman and relates in part to the disingenous rhetoric by the Canadian Federal (Harper) government in defense of the seal hunt when they invoke the Aboriginal / First Nations people. The government argues that First Nations people in Canada rely on the seal and fur trade and that animal rights efforts to hinder this trade hurt First Nations people. Some First Nations activists have lumped opposition to the seal hunt under the ”environmental racism” heading and thereby created a huge divide between animal rights advocates and environmentalists, on one side, and First Nations advocates, on the other.
I believe this approach is nothing more than opportunistic “identity politics” and is morally wrong for the reasons stated in my reply.
First Email: A Question Presented to Me
To: Paul York
Subject: Wonder what you might think?
Date: Tue, 5 May 2009
We’ve never actually met, however I know u from my facebook… and agree with most of what you post. I was wondering what u might think of the statement below… A friend of mine wrote this [below] and I wondered what you might think or people of your mindset might think. I myself am an animal lover yet not a vegetarian. More recently another distant friend of mine… (non-native) posted pictures of coyotes and deer that were hunted down for sport and for food somewhere not far from ________ I believe… it sickened me… I couldn’ t sleep for a few nights after that… and still would like to post a comment to her husband, “the hunter”, knowing that I won’t be a very popular friend if i do… still i really don’t care… the coyotes were shot everywhere… clearly they suffered. Yet I myself have a collection of moccasins and don’t feel as bad knowing the natives that hunted them used everything from that kill to sustain themselves. I don’t collect moccasins anymore, and have worn all of the ones that I do have at some point. The following is from a friend on facebook that will remain anonymous. Please, if you would let me know what u think. I am very interested in your thoughts.
“Please also mention to not to confuse this with the sustainable fur trade and Aboriginal/Indigenous People, where am from they slaughtered the Buffalo and put us into prisons now referred to as First Nations, up north they are doing away with the Seal Fur, the Inuit rely on this for both food and resources even clothing it is there Buffalo, the anti fur trade is funded indirectly by the financiers behind big oil and mining companies, this way they can move in an exploit the land after the people are reliant on food flown in from down south. Look at the salaries all the executives of anti fur animal cruelty organizations are getting, always remember that animals are innocent and should not be wasted or farmed period, look at the farmed salmon on the west coast 20 yrs from now when there is no wild salmon and the Native people will have to rely on Government or maybe than oil and Gas exploration will open up, probably when the last wild Orca washes up on shore… Thnx _______ 4 post!”
Second Email: My Reply
From: Paul York
Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Subject: RE: Wonder what you might think?
I think the person who wrote that paragraph is deluded. Those who are against the fur trade are 99% volunteers who love both animals and human beings and believe there should be no cruelty to either. How very ironic that the Harper government, who work for the fossil fuel companies and who do defend the seal hunt by invoking the welfare of First Nations people (whom they otherwise care nothing for), are not blamed; rather, the animal rights activists are demonized and scapegoated in your friend’s statement.
What’s also missing in this statement is that some of those against the fur trade are Aboriginal people themselves! I know a lady who is of First Nation origin who opposes the seal hunt and advocates animal rights because these positions are consistent with love of Mother Earth. One must distinguish between industrial murder of animals and sustainable traditional hunting for subsistence. Mass murdering marine mammals with high-powered rifles, powerboats and skidoos and then selling the fur and oil for industrial processing and consumption by wealthy white people hardly represents a traditional way of life.
The Harper government is using Aboriginal people to support the industrial sealing industry, an industry which does not really benefit the Aboriginal population. The fur trade is the beginning of the exploitation of the First Nations in Canada through the Hudson’s Bay company; to call it ”traditional” is wrong.
In a similar way, the oil and mining industry is also using and exploiting Aboriginal people in Canada; take a look at the tar sands issue and the rhetoric over “traditional environmental knowledge.” The oil and mining companies pay First Nations to accept resource extraction concessions on traditional lands while other First Nations resist and die. Divide and rule tactics.
First Nations people are the original environmentalists; many still resist industrial development and rape of the land and animals. Others (like Assemby of First Nations leader Phil Fontaine) are selling out for as much as they can get. Some environmental NGOs and some animal right NGOs do lack understanding of First Nations issues, and they themselves have sold out in their own way (e.g., WWF), but to characterize an entire movement negatively is ignorant and prejudiced.
Many people—including myself—are strongly FOR First Nations rights, human right, animal rights and the rights of nature and see no contradiction between these causes. To create divisions where none ought to exist does play into the hands of the oil and mining cartels and their servants, the Stephen Harpers and George Bushes of the world. The fur trade does not help First Nations. . . . If all the seal and animals are dead from over-exploitation to provide fur coats to rich white people, I do not see how Mother Earth is served.
Third Email: Reply to My Reply
To: Paul York
Subject: Re: Wonder what you might think?
Date: Tue, 5 May 2009
Paul York is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. In addition to caring for animal rights, he is an environmentalist, human rights activist, and community organizer.