Canada Shows Its True Colors on the Issue of Color

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

For years we've listened to the Canadian government defend the largest slaughter of seals in the world by citing indigenous rights. Every year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans hires Inuit spokespeople to go to Europe and to the media to argue that ending the seal hunt will hurt native people.

In July of this year when I spoke at the Idea City Conference in Toronto, I was preceded on the platform by Aaju Peter, an Inuit woman wearing a sealskin coat who made an emotional appeal for support for the killing of seals, implying that those who opposed the seal hunt were advocating the genocide of the Inuit people. She presented herself as a sealer and a designer of sealskin coats.

It was not difficult to counter her arguments however because the seal hunt we oppose does not have a single Inuit person participating in it. The Inuit kill about 10,000 adult seals every year in Canada's far North. The obscene Newfoundland and Gulf of St. Lawrence seal slaughter sees the extermination of 325,000 seal pups every March and April.

What Aaju Peter did not say is that she is an employee of the Canadian Department of Justice and she was given a paid leave to go on the road and promote the seal slaughter.

At a meeting in Iceland a few years ago, a Canadian representative of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans actually told assembled proponents of whaling and sealing that opposition to these practices was primarily emotional and the only way to counter emotion was with a greater emotional appeal and therefore he advocated that whenever possible, whalers and sealers should connect their trade to indigenous cultures. Ever since, every time we see a protest against sealing, a hired group of Inuit are trucked to the scene to argue that anti-sealers are racists.

Of course there are indigenous peoples who have spoken out against the seal hunt but the Canadian media tends not to listen to them. Their statements do not fit into the government's propaganda plan.

Arnaituk M. Tarkirk, an Inuit from Kuujjuak, Quebec wrote the following letter in the Ottawa Citizen:

We have been hearing all about the European vote to ban the importation of seal products from the so-called seal hunt. I am Inuk and I would like to say what I think about this.

The money from the hunt goes to Norway mostly and it has nothing to do with the Inuit.

We are skillful hunters who hunt adult animals for food; that is not the same thing as bashing a pup, which can't move, over the head.

In fact, if the hunt were stopped, we would benefit most. There would be more seals left for us to eat, when they are a few years older, and also people would not have an aversion to sealskin products as they have after seeing the way they kill pups, so craftwork with adult skins would be more popular.

The Hudson's Bay Company and the government are just using the Inuit to further their own purposes. I know people who are against the seal hunt and they are not against the Inuit.

I am an Inuk, and I oppose the seal hunt.

This week, the Canadian government made its position on Indigenous Rights clear to the entire world. This nation that justifies the theft of land and the genocide of its native people has declared that it has no apologies for the past.

This week the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples after 22 years of debate. The treaty sets down protections for the human rights of native peoples, and for their land and resources. It passed despite opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. They said it was incompatible with their own laws. There are estimated to be 370 million indigenous people in the world.

The General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with 143 countries voting in favor, four voting against, and 11 abstaining.

Amazing! The government of Canada, the same government that uses the Inuit to justify the horrific annual slaughter of seals, the same government that uses Native people to justify the fur trade now declares that rights of Native people is "incompatible" with the laws of Canada.

I'll repeat that because it seems to me to be vaguely important. The government of Canada along with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have said that acknowledging rights for indigenous people is "incompatible" with their laws.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has always recognized the rights of indigenous peoples and we have never opposed the legal hunting of whales and seals by indigenous people. The recent killing of a resident Gray whale by five member of the Makah tribe was illegal under international, national and tribal laws. Opposing the illegal kill of a whale is consistent with our position of respecting and acknowledging indigenous rights.

In fact, we have given more than lip service to our support for Indigenous Rights. In 1973, I served as a medic to assist the American Indian Movement during the retaking of Wounded Knee from the United States government. In 1989, I stood with Chief Paulinho Paiakan and the Kayapo people to oppose the World Bank's construction of a dam on the Xingu River in Brazil.  In 1991, the Sea Shepherd II, my crew and  a crew of Gitksan and Wet'suet'wen people from British Columbia intercepted, boarded and seized the Columbus replica caravel the Santa Maria in the waters of Puerto Rico. In 1995 at the invitation of some of the Elders of the Makah Nation, we intervened to protect whales from illegal whaling by some Makah who wanted to kill whales. This year, The Mohawks presented our two Sea Shepherd ships with the flag and registry of the Five Nations of the Iroquois.

The Canadian government on the other hand has demonstrated a history of deceit and manipulation when it comes to its pretense of defending indigenous rights by defending non-native sealing under the guise of aboriginal rights. In short, the government has a history of lies both with its nefarious dealings with indigenous cultures and with its manipulative dealings with conservation issues. The bottom line is that the government of Canada serves its corporate masters and resources and indigenous peoples are simply a commodity to be exploited and sold for profit.