I spent my first years as an adult beginning a career by working in Canada’s north country. By north, I mean about 16 miles from the North West Territories on the northern shore of Lake Athabasca. While there, in a community of First Nations people who engaged in fishing, trapping, and hunting as a way of life, making a living that allowed children to be fed, homes to be built, and access to education [that was my role], I learned more than I taught.
I had been an environmentalist who cut his teeth on Ducks Unlimited, the Sierra Dunes Society, Ralph Nader, and Rachel Carson to name just a few. I had published editorials in small town newspapers as an environmental activist. I had this monolithic idea of environmental paradise. I was young and stoked with zeal. My first teaching job showed me the other side of the equation in an environment in which the “enemy” seemed to be more in touch with nature than any of those who wrote and gathered for protests to protect the environment.
Since those early years, the fur trade has all but disappeared, and with it the economic livelihood of First Nations peoples in the north. I saw this first hand when I returned to be a principal and director of education near the same place I had begun my career in the far north. Other than mining employment which required people to take scheduled charter flights to remote mines, there was no employment. Now, I am starting to hear that these mining jobs, and oil sands jobs are threatened. If environmental activists have their way, the only route to economic salvation for First Nations would be to abandon their homes and communities to gather in the cities. But of course, they want to stay at home and the white society would much prefer that they stay in the remote north as well.
What have we accomplished? Not nearly as much good as we had thought. The cost in human terms has been horrendous if you are aboriginal in Canada’s north, or on marginal land in oil producing country. We have worsened the lives of First Nations peoples and we don’t want to pay the costs of fixing what “we” have broken.
M, my American friend who earns part of his living in retirement through the curing and tanning of hides for leather, is keeping alive some of the “old west” with his endeavours. It is sad to think that this skill is not practised very much anymore. Even this is under attack by the “vegan” movement who want us to have nothing to do with anything that is associated with wildlife – no leather, no wool, no down feathers – it boggles my mind to think of the rabbit hole our modern society has fallen into.