COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Jan. 11, 2013

Jessica Iron Joseph
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I had been pleasantly writing a column about a vegan diet and it was almost done when I re-read a certain paragraph, and was struck with a thunderbolt of awareness. The paragraph was about me being vegan and trying to come to terms with my non-vegan First Nations hunter-gatherer roots.

The paragraph in question was about how I understood the necessity of hunting wild animals for survival, and the spiritual element that is present before, during and after a hunt, honoring an animal’s spirit -- hunting the traditional way. I was trying to be OK with the idea of killing an animal, and talking myself through it, but truly I am not.

I realize last summer I wrote a column about preparing for an apocalypse and the necessity of hunting and such, but I haven’t yet reached that point in my survival training. I hope I never do. I can’t even kill spiders.

So I stared hard at it this paragraph about my supposed understanding and acceptance of hunting, wondering if I could actually live with myself if I sent it off to my editors when a nagging thought arose: What about the fur trade?

True, hunting was much more sacred before the fur trade. Every part of an animal was used and people only hunted and took what they needed, attempting to preserve the earth and its resources for generations to come. People were very aware of the balance in nature and held a holy reverence for all that the Creator provided for them.

At the time of the fur trade, when First Nations and Europeans first became alliances, the land was rife with animals and resources, ready for the reaping -- or the raping, depending on how you view it.

In any case, there was a trade-off; furs for stuff. Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company profited from First Nations hunters and guides who brought them beaver skins and buffalo hides and the skins of any animals that interested them. In exchange, these furs and skins bought guns, kettles, pots and pans, blankets, clothing, beads, food, etc.

A flashier and easier life was only a few furs away.

In essence, furs were currency of the day, and animals unfortunately represented a means to wealth. Suddenly balance in the environment was no longer a consideration. People who once protected the environment were now active participants in its imminent destruction. For what? A new gun? Shiny beads?

Then I got to thinking about Idle No More and I wished Idle No More was around during the fur trade, where I think many environmental problems in Canada began. I don’t believe Harper is the worst thing to happen to our environment. I don’t even think it was contact with Europeans who first landed on these shores. I think the biggest problem was and continues to be greed.

Bill C-45 and all the other bills currently under consideration are only small points in a long history of everyone turning a blind eye to the rampant destruction of Mother Earth, ignoring the sale of her piece by piece without concern about the consequences. We are all in danger and it is our greed that got us here.

Greed. Everyone’s greed. Not just Harper’s, or the current governments’, or governments before those. We can all look squarely into our mirrors and point our fingers at ourselves. It is our individual and collective greed that has gotten our environment to the current mess it is in.

Where once First Nations people were stewards of the land (some still are), understanding the delicate balance in nature, the intricate weavings of interconnectedness between every living thing, somewhere along the line -- my guess is during the fur trade, that delicate balance was disrupted. I think the worst thing to ever happen to nature is greed.

Greed or avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, has been around as long as humans have. So long as we have jealousy and desire we will compete. We will compete at the expense of the earth we walk on, the animals that surround us, the water we drink and the air we breathe.

So long as we continue to look the other way, to drive gas-guzzling vehicles, have excessively long showers or daily baths, so long as we fill landfills with wasted stuff we are in jeopardy. When we work jobs that exploit our last remaining resources because we desire the latest iPhone or iPod, we are all guilty. Each day we eat three square meals of factory-farmed meat (store-bought pork, chicken, beef & seafood) we are guilty of contributing to the mess this Earth is in.

There are certainly things we can do. We can learn about how to live greener. We can go vegan or vegetarian. We can find more sustainable options. We can stop selling our resources in exchange for money and stuff.

If you’re reading this, I bet you live in Canada. We are all here and we are all responsible for the state of our country.

If we are not monitoring our carbon foot print at every single point of our day, we are no different than people who participated in the fur trade -- a dark time for Canada, and ultimately Mother Earth, when we sold her out for our greed.





Organizations: First Nations, Bay Company, North West Company

Geographic location: Canada

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