Plus ça change…

Suzanne Methot reviewed Farley Mowat’s Walking on the Land, which was published in 2000. From that review:

“Farley Mowat detailed government treatment of the Ihalmiut, First Nations people in Canada’s northern lands. His accounts, which described famine and epidemics of disease, were vigorously denied by churches, industry, and government and earned Mowat the nickname “Hardly Knowit.” The denials continued for decades, culminating in the 1990s with Saturday Night’s infamous cover graphic of Mowat with a Pinocchio nose.

“Walking on the Land is another account of the Ihalmiut saga, and Mowat’s response to the denials. The author has rehashed much material from the first two books, but in this book he places the blame for the disintegration of Inuit culture squarely on the government, instead of characterizing it as an inadvertent consequence of contact between a hunting society and an industrial society. This book also includes gruesome details that were omitted from the other books in light of delicate 1950s sensibilities.

“Mowat’s rollicking narrative and rich characterizations make this an easy read. What’s not easy is the story of horrifying neglect and outright stupidity on the part of the federal government. And what’s pathetic is that those with an anti-aboriginal agenda will continue to claim that the Ihalmiut existed only in Mowat’s imagination, despite this book’s clear details about who Mowat travelled with, what he saw, and when. Fact: the Ihalmiut existed, and they were relocated to useless expanses of land no fewer than three times, shunted about by a government intent on building a colonial vision from sea to sea to sea.

Walking on the Land is a must-read for anyone who calls them self a Canadian.”

Canada’s indigenous people have been practitioners of sustainability for millennia, harvesting from nature without diminishing the land. Today, in the circles of government and industry, sustainability no longer involves caring for land, air and water or, as the OED articulates, protecting assets and conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Instead, now it means,

“We must outsource and layoff, cut quality and service and raise prices, fees, taxes and business subsidies.”

In governments of Canada’s westernmost provinces, no one speaks for the environment. As demonstrated in the preceding article on this blog, the protectors have joined the exploiters. First Nations, after severe harm by industrial and residential schools, are targeted with new pressures because they stand in the way of projects by multinational resource enterprises.

Oil sands pollutants contaminate traditional First Nations’ foods: report, Globe & Mail, July 2014

“Titled Environmental and Human Health Implications of the Athabasca Oil Sands for the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Northern Alberta, the report will add to calls for sober second thought to ramping up oil sands production…

“‘Substantial employment opportunities are generated by the oil sands. Yet, this development, as well as upstream hydro projects, compromises the integrity of the environment and wildlife, which, in turn, adversely affects human health and well-being,’ the research paper said.

Jobs and economic activity have long been the justification for large scale industrial action in Canada’s lightly populated regions. Typically though, the exploiters have had little concern for long term health of the lands and the people. The outsiders depart with profits of their work and leave the detritus for others.

In 1963, Arthur Laing’s Ministry of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources demonstrated little understanding of people much affected by their development policies,

“Even the Indians are beginning to turn from the traditional hunting and trapping economy; more and more they are working as miners, stevedores, and construction workers.”

Political leaders continue disrespecting and devaluing the traditions of First Nations. The British Columbia government waged a long legal battle against aboriginal rights and title. After the Tsilhqot’in Nation was successful in Canada’s highest court – a case with roots dating back more than three decades – Premier Clark “embraced” the First Nation and promised a changed relationship.

That assurance had as much sincerity as a hogtied prisoner’s declaration that he would stop running. Until it lost in the Supreme Court of Canada, Clark’s government was dedicated to ending the concept of aboriginal title and taking full control of traditional lands of First Nations.

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