A seal pup and a hunter — and a Greenpeace activist standing between them.
That’s the image many indigenous inhabitants of Northern Canada still see when someone says the word ‘Greenpeace’ — even though we have not actively campaigned against the seal hunt for many years now. And they have good reasons for that. Our campaign against commercial sealing did hurt many, both economically and culturally.
The time has come to set the record straight.
In the eight months since I took on the challenging role of executive director for Greenpeace Canada, one thing has come up again and again in discussions with staff across the country: a deep desire to make amends with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples for past mistakes, to decolonize ourselves, and to better communicate our policies and practices going forward.
At staff meetings, on patios after work, and in email chains across the country, the people I work with are telling me they want this. They need this. That this is not just how they work, but what they value as individuals — and as the new executive director of Greenpeace Canada, I’d better make sure this is reflected in our work. We’ve made great strides in the past, but we can do better. I’m hearing my team, I’m inspired, and so now, we’re taking action to make this a reality.
So how did we get here?
In 1976, when we were just a few years old, Greenpeace Canada began a campaign that would come to define us as an organization for many years. The campaign had good intentions: to expose and end the commercial hunting of marine mammals, in particular Canada’s commercial seal hunt. By some standards, it was a successful campaign. But in one major way, it failed very, very badly.
Though the campaign was directed against the commercial hunting of seals — and not the small-scale, subsistence hunting carried out by Northern Indigenous and coastal peoples — we did not always communicate this clearly enough. The consequences of that, though unintended, were far-reaching.
It was a complicated time. The federal government often tried to include small-scale Indigenous hunts in their communications, selectively addressing issues and manufacturing content that roped everyone into the same basket. But the differences are stark, with perhaps the most important one being the relationship that Indigenous Peoples have with the animals they hunt for food, clothing and cultural purposes. They take only what they need, and no more. They honour the animals, the land and the ocean. This special relationship has existed since time immemorial, and Greenpeace respects and honours this Indigenous knowledge and those relationships.
But the campaign took on a life of its own and became global. Many other organizations were involved — culminating in, among other things, the U.S. ban on seal products and the EU ban on products originating from whitecoats. To be clear, Greenpeace’s campaign focused on the Canadian government’s ongoing mismanagement of the species and on bringing an end to the commercial hunt.
But we acknowledge the role we played in the unforeseen consequences of these bans. In 1985, we issued an apology for our role in this. Now we must go further.
Like the corporations we campaign against, we too must be open to change. Open to examining ourselves, our history, and the impact our campaigns have had, and to constantly reassessing ourselves — not just by apologizing, but by humbly making amends and changing the way we work. And we have a responsibility — not just as an organization that once campaigned against the commercial hunt, but also as conscious, socially responsible human beings — to right wrongs, to actively stop the spread of misinformation, and to decolonize our thinking, our language and our approach.
There is far more that unites us than divides us. And if we’re to have any hope of protecting our homes for future generations, of keeping the water and land free from oil spills and healthy enough for people to live and thrive on, then we must work together.
To back up our words, we have drafted and adopted a policy, written in conjunction with First Nations, in support of Indigenous rights to a subsistence lifestyle and the right to sustainable development. The policy can be found online and is extensive — covering land rights claims, the UN declaration on Indigenous Peoples requiring free, prior and informed consent — and recognizes the various forms of leadership in many First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. It also challenges the Canadian government to respect Indigenous rights and support the just settlement of outstanding aboriginal rights and title issues.
But we’ve gone further than putting pen to paper. In Canada, Greenpeace employs three talented, passionate Indigenous women, who are working in Yellowknife, Vancouver and Edmonton on issues affecting their communities. They are often the first to know about oil spills or other incidents being ignored by the local or national government, and they are empowered to act in whatever way the affected communities choose.
In the Great Bear Rainforest, we worked side by side with Coastal First Nations to develop and implement the most comprehensive rainforest conservation plan in North America’s history, hailed as a model for forest conservation globally, and we continue to work with them now as the plan is being implemented.
In the tar sands, we work alongside Indigenous organizations and support communities affected by oil spills in whatever way they need, amplifying their voices on a global level, and facilitating solutions. The Alberta government even pressed charges against Plains Midstream Canada ULC following a Greenpeace report on the pipeline company’s oil spill near Little Buffalo, Alberta on April 28, 2011. We have provided support for the Healing Walk — both organizational and financial — since it began four years ago and our campaigners always look forward to attending to learn directly from First Nations on the ecological, spiritual and health impacts of the tar sands.
Two years ago, we hosted our first Arctic Indigenous conference in Russia, bringing together traditional hunters, trappers, reindeer herders and others from across the region to share stories and discuss solutions. The individuals and groups there drafted a Joint Statement of Indigenous Solidarity for Arctic Protection. The year after, on the eve of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, we hosted our second conference, with Indigenous Peoples from every Arctic nation and beyond. There, 16 more individuals and groups signed onto the declaration, bringing the total to 43.
In Russia, where Indigenous Peoples are constantly dealing with the impacts of a lawless oil industry that each year spills five times more oil on land than BPs Deepwater Horizon disaster, Greenpeace works deeply within communities to help them fight back against the oil companies and clean up the spills on their traditional territories. Recently, Greenpeace Russia commissioned satellite data of northern Russia, identified spills that the oil companies denied existed and handed the data to the local prosecutor. As a result, the company in question, Lukoil, was fined 20 million USD, the largest such fine in Russia’s history.
In 2012, Greenpeace launched another campaign, this time to protect the Arctic from the oil companies and destructive industrial fisheries that are seeking to exploit the melting ice at any cost. It’s the largest global campaign we’ve ever run, and we’re doing this in consultation with Indigenous Peoples from every Arctic country, to ensure that the solutions we propose are forged together. We have translated our Arctic campaign pamphlets into Gwich’in and Inuktitut languages and we are proud to be launching our Arctic campaign website in both of those languages as well, in an effort to provide clear, factual information — on community terms — about who we are and our campaign to the protect the Arctic.
For hundreds of years, industry and government has ignored critical Indigenous knowledge to its peril, all in the name of “progress”. That era needs to end. For our part, we’ll do whatever we can to amplify these voices, acknowledge the power of Indigenous knowledge, and seek to apply the lessons from their holistic approach to a new model of conservation. An industrial disaster would forever destroy the subsistence lifestyle, and the risk of that happening is too high. To preserve that lifestyle, these traditions, and the right to livelihood, we must work together to stop the destruction of the Arctic for profit by multinationals.
There is far more that unites us than divides us. And if we’re to have any hope of protecting our homes for future generations, of keeping the water and land free from oil spills and healthy enough for people to live and thrive on, then we must work together, in respect for each other, for the water, for the animals, and for this incredible planet that we all share.
Joanna Kerr is executive director of Greenpeace Canada
This article was originally published on iPolitics.ca
Please link this article to your 1985 apology so readers can see the full context.
This is good news and expressed well. As a result I would like to renew my membership in Greenpeace. Wally
I want you to know, you did not change me. You didn’t change what I eat nor what I believe in. You only changed the way the world sees me. You created sheep who fallowed you blindly but Inuit never changed because of you. nor will we ever again.
Finally you people are woke
I wish more organizations would self-examine and own their past mistakes in this manner.
Greenpeace should pay restitution to the Inuit Communities affected financially by the campaign.
thank you and since it affected Canada’s Inuit families it is time to go Inuit region in person for general apology to Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Labrador, North Western Territory. and last but not least John Lennon need to be heard and Pamela Anderson’s apology to Inuit peoples of Canada.
This is a must!!! This campaign was a disgrace
You made money every time a baby seal appeared on your pr materials. Use that to spread your support of Inuit seal hunt!
Green peace will never get my forgiveness seals kept us alive and green peace did a lot of damage to our people in Northern Labrador by their campaigns to make money. It was all about making money as far as I’m concerned you are doing damage to others now with your causes. You are out to make money to keep your organization alive. How about you all wear Inuit made seal skin clothing all over the world. When you start doing that you are seeking forgiveness not some lame apology. I won’t forgive you
I have been a monthly financial supporter of Greenpeace for many years, especially during my working years. I am proud that Greenpeace has brought this message to our Indigenous People, and I appreciate the efforts being made and the new directions undertaken.
"The policy can be found online and is extensive" Why are you not providing a live link to this policy when you are providing other live links? Will you provide a link please?
Thank you for this very informative article.... having spent 10 years travelling to Canada’s Arctic and taking part in several community feasts I was always amazed at the ingenuity of the hunters and the sense of community in regards to ensuring all people had food, Nothing ever goes to waste and over hunting never happens.
I come from a settler back ground, am a life long environmentalist, and have been a supporter of native peoples for many years. The title of this post is quite emotionally attractive for me, having long been a supporter of the greater goals of Green Peace, and still saddened by the injustice to the Inuit peoples, that came about as a result of the Seal Hunt campaign. I think an apology and an effort to make things right, by Green Peace, to the Inuit peoples, for the damage done to their culture and reputation as a result of the Seal Hunt campaign, is long overdue. And I do feel like this letter make a good attempt at that. I feel however, that the letter diverged from the stated intention of an apology to the Inuit, becoming instead, a listing of the things you've done that should unite Green Peace and the Inuit, and in so doing, lost the point. Half way through I realized that the letter no longer had anything to do with the title and I had trouble reading to the end. In my view, it became more of a Green Peace centric view that the Inuit should "want" to work with you, and it left me with a feeling of disappointment. It would have had a chance of working if the content had come back to the apology subject, and actually apologized. But instead, you come off looking like so many other settler approaches to native peoples; that the apology is just something that you have to get out of the way to get to what you want. It is still not true reconciliation, because your organizations self interest is still your focus. An apology of any true worth, must be solely focused on the needs of the person or group that the apology is being made to. Much of what was initially said was right on, it just didn't stay focused and follow through. This letter left me feeling sad, because both Green Peace and the Inuit, and all native peoples who call themselves 'land protectors', should have common cause. It points to the settler cultural trait of self interest, as being incompatible with the native cultural trait of being 'a part of' Mother Earth. This is what we must overcome and evolve beyond, if we are to successfully alter our species trajectory, in the face of global warming.
As an Inuk, I will never forgive Greenpeace for the destruction of our economy, nor the ensuing stigmatization of our culture. We’ve been fighting racial colonialization and the destruction of our Inuit culture badly enough without your “help”. To everyone who was involved in this propaganda war against my people, I hope you unexpectedly step on a Lego brick every morning or night for the rest of your life.
I would recommend before your group take action and "attack" ANYTHING you don't like that you first research and visit and see with your own eyes what is actually going on. Talk to elders and meet with the people who are directly related to what your activist eyes are looking at. All the damage you have caused could've been prevented just by finding out facts. All the years of using celebrities and shaming us for hunting seal and making us look like slaughter hunters... That campaign Greenpeace did was wrong, over the top and full of shit, Inuit still fight with EU on their seal products ban. Your apology, although very surprising and long over due, has negatively impacted a generation, so many Inuit live in poverty!! Where our renewable resource was always responsibly harvested and a means to provide for our families has become a source of income no longer. Not an endangered species at all. You should watch "Angry Inuk" on Netflix and get a true understanding on what Greenpeace has done to Inuit people. Make your apology in person. Even the Prime Minister went to the Arctic to apologize for how Inuit have been treated. You can and should do that also. You owe us. If you have been part of anything anywhere anytime that has caused that much damage to an entire group of people.... You owe the most sincere and real apology. I do not like the types of apologies where a person says some good words then switches out to something else. Quit making yourself look a hero regarding oil and blah blah blah. Stay focused. The apology to Inuit should not be over shadowed by anything else Greenpeace is doing. Regardless if you believe you are doing good work... You have caused our people alot of damage for how many years? You owe us better then this.
Too little, too late? I'm trying very hard to accept this apology, but having problems. I have messaged you in the past about the damage you did to the Inuit culture requesting you now help repair the damage and assist them in getting their economy back in the form of selling seal products in Europe and around the world. You and others literally destroyed a vital part of how northern communities make a living, resulting in poverty, drug abuse, and deaths. One commentary won;t fix that. You talk a big game, but where is the action to specifically help these Northern Peoples? Generic talk of helping First Nations is fine, but the pointed damage you did to the Inuit requires more. I told you I stopped my monthly contributions until such time as you apologized and starting repairing the damage caused, you have done one, now help them recover the seal trade. Promote their products here and in Europe, campaign in the European parliament to fix their attitudes toward seal products and then make sure people know about this. You publicized the ban, now publicize the Inuit economy.
40+ years ago, my schoolmates and I were part of the entertainment for the launch of Greenpeace in Toronto. We had created The Whale Show, which focussed on the plight of Cetaceans in both an industrial and indigenous context. At least that’s my memory of it.......🤓 Bravo to Greenpeace for taking this great step! It makes me proud!
You are harnessing the gift Indigenous People’s bring to the earth. This apology / realization and Greenpeace’s subsequent activity goes a long way to recognizing reconciliation and truth. Pray that Canadians realize what you are saying and it’s truth. Greenpeace, the truth and relevance of your mission has been secured and amplified by your ability to look at and scrutinize your actions. Very few organizations ever have the vision or will to undertake such an evaluation of themselves - as do very few people. To me your relevancy to humankind is vital!
I do not understand why if you apologize, you still choose to put a seal as an image to your message, I would like to be explained ..
While I appreciate this effort your representation of the Inuit seal hunt is incorrect, and you still have a colonial view point. Inuit hunters don’t just want to hunt for their own use, they want to be able to provide for their families from the seal, as they have always done. In the modern era this looks different than it once, and includes being able to sell their product to purchas good like fuel, medications, education, food etc. They should have the opportunity to do this on in an open market that is not influenced by an emotional campaign aimed to illicit donations for your organization. This apology means very little and is still steeped in a colonial view point of how the Inuit are meant to live their lives.
Over 35 years, often of knowingly misrepresenting the situation. Far too late for the harm that your organization did in this respect.
Long awaited! Commendable current innitiatives. But the poisonous ripples of Greenpeace's actions have to be actively addressed... I hope you will also actively campaing EU government representatives to reverse their ban and educate educate educate.
“At staff meetings, on patios after work, and in email chains across the country, the people I work with are telling me they want this.” Let me paraphrase that statement : “As we sun ourselves over a glass of Chardonnay, far removed from the reality of the arctic north, we’ve realized after several decades that we’ve been a tad harsh on seal hunters trying to feed themselves.” In your next apology, try being a little less tone deaf. It’s great that you’re making strides to improve, but the damage you caused deserves better than this tripe.
This apology is laughable. We are not "Canada's Indigenous people" even in your apology you continue to view us as possessions of a colonial state. "even though we have not actively campaigned against the seal hunt for many years now." It really takes the edge off the apology when one of the first things you do is try to defend yourself - we're sorry but we're not that bad, you can't be that mad at us. Ugh... "The campaign had good intentions" we've heard this about Indian Residential Schools too. Saying it isn't helpful. Stop trying to soften your colonial violence. "Though the campaign was directed against the commercial hunting of seals — and not the small-scale, subsistence hunting carried out by Northern Indigenous and coastal peoples — we did not always communicate this clearly enough." We didn't even mean to harm you, sorry we didn't tell you that. What a joke... "It was a complicated time." I don't think I even need to comment on this line... "But we acknowledge the role we played in the unforeseen consequences of these bans." These consequences would have been seen had you spoken to a single Inuk before you started a campaign you knew nothing about. Classic white ignorance, arrogance and activism. This is what we are suddenly passionate about, so lets bulldoze through it regardless of how our immediate uneducated needs might impact people who's existence is of no consequence to us. "Open to examining ourselves, our history, and the impact our campaigns have had, and to constantly reassessing ourselves — not just by apologizing, but by humbly making amends and changing the way we work. And we have a responsibility — not just as an organization that once campaigned against the commercial hunt, but also as conscious, socially responsible human beings — to right wrongs, to actively stop the spread of misinformation, and to decolonize our thinking, our language and our approach." You going to go into Communities and apologize? Invest the money you made off of your "campaign" into Inuit Communities? Didn't think so. After all, that would put white interests at risk huh? "There is far more that unites us than divides us." I beg to differ... "we must work together." Because that's worked out so well for Indians in the past... "To back up our words, we have drafted and adopted a policy, written in conjunction with First Nations" How about the Inuit to whom this apology is addressed? Probably too hard to invite Inuit into your conversations. They're too far away, need interpreters, expensive to fly them to our office... Oh well, let's just talk to the First Nations. They're all the same anyway right? LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE IN THIS APOLOGY - A pile of hollow words. Meaningless opportunity for GreenPeace to give itself a pat on the back. Yeah yeah, we're sorry - but look how amazing we are! The Great White Hope - here to rescue Indigenous people everywhere. Dear non-Indigenous environmental activists - if we have any hope for protecting our homes for future generations than be quiet and stay out of the way. We'll do our best to clean up the mess you've made... RAWRRRR!
Hi everybody, I want to acknowledge the comments here. I’m really grateful to everyone who took the time to share difficult thoughts, memories and emotions about this. We are listening. Your words are a reminder of how Greenpeace’s campaign against the commercial hunting of seals in the 70s and 80s had unintended impacts on the livelihoods of many Inuit — and how those impacts are still felt today. We are deeply sorry. We also know that words alone are not enough. We respect the right of Inuit to a sustainable hunt and to earn an income from it. And while it is true that our staff today are generations apart from the people who led our campaign decades ago, it is also true that the pain of that campaign has persisted through several Inuit generations. We are committed to learning from those mistakes and to ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. We are trying to do this not only through the campaign work we've had the honour of doing together with Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic, but also by making sure our staff take decolonization trainings and by embedding anti-oppression frameworks into our work. We are continually learning and striving to do better — and we want to do more. I will be sharing your comments with our staff and management. We sincerely welcome your constructive criticism and will be discussing how to do better. With respect, Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace Canada Executive Director
Please contact me on Whatsapp: 79697516322 I have a few questions
Greenpeace, you have done well on a lot of things for a lot of years. An example would be your efforts during the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, which I remember well. Your efforts to save marine wildlife have, for the most part, been helpful and needed. This time, though, the "White-centric" nature of some of your protests clearly had a very bad effect on the Inuit. Those who suggest to you that you now use your ever-present "cute baby seal marketing" space to instead highlight the condition of the damaged Inuit economies, they have a point. You should do that. Use that same zeal, that same effort, to campaign for the subsistence hunters such as the Inuit. Make it clear that the sustainable seal hunting done by those like the Inuit is exactly how it should be done (Native American/First Nations-style), and those products are thus, "ethical"...because they are. Help the Inuit market the products from their sustainable catch. You do owe them that since you (along with others, such as PETA) helped kill off their market, even if that wasn't your stated goal. I hope you will do this for the Inuit. They could really use your help here in this regard.
Nice to see another narrative being given equal standing even though it took over 40 years or so for it to happen. I also commend Greenpeace for being responsible, fair and brave enough to facilitate that discussion. I think it should also be noted that Greenpeace was only 1 player in that paternalistic & dishonest debacle. Others players included IFAW, Paul Watson (now with SSS), & Brigitte Bardot. Long overdue for them to also be accountable.
Fine and dandy that Greenpeace issues a heartfelt apology. How does this help the people they hurt, the people who lost much of their income and part of their traditional way of life? Not at all. A real apology requires financial restitution. As well, how could Greenpeace have been blind to the fact that protesting commercial sealing would also adversely affect the inuit sealers as well? Of course you knew. Greenpeace was just too sanctimonious to care. If you care now, pay now.
Green Pease, like any other organization out there, needs to know, understand and put the lifestyles of far north people first, before campaigns to "fix' things that have existed for thousands of years, that dont need fixing.
You need to include Inuit and Indigenous voices in your organization that is involved in the colonial state. Your efforts have damaged so many lives and were apart of the ongoing erasure of Inuits. The image of white European peoples caring more for animals than human beings is arrogant and stupid.
These people live in an environment that you and I would not survive in. They have a way of life that you have tunnel vision towards. Stop and look at what you are doing to these people, taking away there lively hood there only source of income to the outside world. But you are not opposing the mineral companies from underwater detonation in search of oil and gas deposits. How much destruction do you support ? Do you not understand what is detrimental to life itself. if you wish to conserve all of the world we live in then start learning from the real conservationist that is those who live in harmony with it. It is easy to judge others from a nice cosy office. Please support the Inuit people in there quest to survive in our modern world, as they are not the ones in the wrong we are. Maybe ask to spend a year with them to see what there life is all about, and who you are really affecting. It is not our place to judge . That day will come.
"It also challenges the Canadian Government to Respect Indigenous Rights"...how ironic. When Greenpeace caused the entire commercial market (which FYI is Mostly supplied by Inuits) to crash, they also crashed the livelihood of Canadian Inuits. You're talking as if the commercial segment isn't connected to the Inuit market - secondly, while green peace pushed for bans, the Canadian Government DIDN'T. To this day, the Canadian government is trying to get that industry back, and because of the lack of success, it's now pushed to look for alternative sources of income for these communities (e.g., Search for Oil in Baffin Island). The only way for atonement is to actually act on spreading awareness of the mistakes caused and to try and reverse the ban globally. A policy change & acknowledgement from Green Peace isn't enough.