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Monday, September 18, 2006

Friends, Neighbors and Barbarians, Lend Me Your Ear

The term “barbarian” is thrown our way by animal rights activists on a regular basis as they protest the east coast seal hunt each year. While the hunt is actually conducted by people from around Atlantic Canada and Quebec, most often the insults are directed toward the good folks of Newfoundland and Labrador. It used to bother me quite a bit but I’ve mellowed on the subject after some sober and thoughtful reflection.

It occurred to me that the well intentioned folks who use this term are, in reality, so far removed from the facts of life in rural Newfoundland and Labrador as to make it almost understandable that they might have the impression they do. Someone once said that racism is rooted in ignorance and once you get to know about any group of people those roots wither and die. This statement is very appropriate to the Newfoundland experience.

In parts of the world the seal hunt is seen as a scourge on our planet. It’s a cold, callous massacre where defenseless seals with big doe eyes are clubbed to death by savage, snarling savages. It’s a highly emotional visual indeed, reminiscent of a perspiration soaked nightmare played out on pristine white ice floes. It’s this visual that’s promoted to the hilt by large organizations intent on harvesting something other than seals, the donations this image can produce.

In response to these visions, essentially caring individuals around the world lash out against those who conduct or condone those acts of violence. A natural reaction when you consider what they must be feeling. In this context, it’s easy to understand why they verbally attack people they see as cruel and cold hearted enemies. Unfortunately, what these people aren’t exposed to is the reality of life in the Province or the people who live here.

Die hard activists will likely brush aside my words as nothing more than excuses and rationalizations. I realize as well that I run the risk of alienating other Newfoundlanders by appearing to sympathize with the very protesters who have attacked us for years. Either way I’ll be getting a lot of emails and comments from disgruntled readers over the coming days but what else is new.

All I want to say is that those who refer to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as barbarians fail to understand that seals are not an endangered species, nor are they cuddly little fuzz balls. They are efficient predators and their population is growing, even while the harvest goes on each year. They fail to realize that while protest organizations present images of burly men swinging huge clubs, in reality 90% of seals are hunted by rifle and that efforts are already underway to remove the use of clubs from the hunt all together.

What animal rights leaders fail to tell their supporters is that the same “barbarians” who they demonize at every opportunity are, in reality, caring and ecologically conscious people just like themselves. The big difference between the two is that the barbarians often have a much closer relationship to the land, the sea and natural environment in which they live than those who arrive to protest the hunt each spring.

The barbarians here have been fighting for years to protect truly threatened species like northern cod, a species that is being illegally fished into extinction by European fleets. The barbarians here are fighting to ban bottom dragging fishing gear that totally destroys fish habitat by scraping the ocean clean of every living thing in its path, including fish species that seals depend upon for food. The barbarians here have ensured the stability and growth of moose populations in the province in spite of the fact that every year people die on local highways in collisions with the large animals.

The barbarians of Newfoundland and Labrador have set aside vast wilderness areas, protected endangered species like the pine marten and continually struggle to preserve ever decreasing ocean dwelling species that are under attack by other nations. The fact that the seal hunt is not a pretty sight has overshadowed all of this and that’s perhaps the most unfortunate thing of all. It’s unfortunate because the misinformation being put forward means that species truly at risk are being ignored by the general public and they have only a bunch of supposedly uncaring barbarians to speak on their behalf.

The barbarians of Newfoundland and Labrador live closely with nature and like ranchers, farmers and others who must deal with death on a daily basis, they understand that the work they do is not pretty. They understand that people can be offended by what needs to be done to make a living and put food on the table. They also realize that destroying an entire animal population is like cutting off your own blood supply because when it’s gone so is your way of life. They understand all of this and that is why they try everyday to ensure that a balance is maintained. These realities are ignored by protest groups who prefer instead to present only the image that best suits their interests.

The term barbarian, when used in reference to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, used to make me angry. It doesn’t anymore. After reading some of the letters and comments sent to me by angry protesters who have said they wanted to see my children skinned alive in front of me, who wished that my province would be wiped out by a tsunami or who prayed that the entire population of this place could be exterminated, after that, a simple word like barbarian means very little.

I realize that these people are frustrated by what they see as barbaric acts. I also realize that the truth is altogether different than has been presented to them. By and large the people of this place are caring, loving and concerned individuals who are simply trying to survive in a world that refuses understand them. They are a people concerned about protecting the ecology they depend upon and they are a people who are willing to fight for their rural way of life. To the world they may be barbarians, but to me they are neighbors, friends and family, nothing more and nothing less.

8 comments:

Patriot said...

Hi all,

This article was also published in Canada Free Press under my regular column "Atlantic Canada Report". I just thought I'd share a comment from one of the readers there. It's clear that the word is getting out.

Mr. Higgins,

I wanted to thank you for your column of 9/18/2006 concerning the seal hunters of Newfoundland & Labrador. I am a Texan, and can honestly say that I had never even heard of Newfoundland until I met my wife-to-be in an online chatroom nine years ago. She is from Fortune, down the Burin Peninsula, and lived for many years in St. Johns. We have been married for over seven years, and when I brought her to Texas I learned from her many things about Newfoundland.

I had initially researched the province when we first met, and in the process encountered much negativity, with Newfs being referred to as barbarous in quite a few ways, and being the brunt of much scathingly sarcastic humor. But in my visits to Newfoundland, and through the enlightenment provided through my wife, I have come to love and respect Newfound and Newfoundlanders, and have even learned to pronounce it correctly (like underSTAND, as my wife taught me!). While I would not want to be present at a seal hunt, nor eat any part of them, I understand their niche in the ecological system of the area, and the reasons for the hunts from both the ecological and financial aspects.

And so I applaud you for standing up, not for the seal hunt itself, but for the hunters, and for what they are struggling to accomplish. The issues are much greater than a bit of blood on the ice, and if a Texan can come to understand the necessity of the seal hunts, then it boggles the mind that those much closer and more affected by the situation cannot.

Bravo, and yipee-ki-yay, podner!

Troy Davidson
Dallas, Texas
USA

Anonymous said...

Hmm Texan?

Of course.


Everyone knows there are barbarians in Texas.

Anonymous said...

90% of seals are killed with a rifle? Why are 10% still clubbed cruelly?? And if the clubs aren't cruel and barbaric, why are efforts being made to ban them??

By your own admission, clubbing seals is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Now, suddenly, the hakapik "looks bad". Let's ban the hakapik, in order to 'recover the humane image' of the brutal seal hunt.


Thank you European Parliament members for letting Canadians know that the seal hunt is "a brutal and cruel practice".



And that's the reason they are entertainig the ban on hakapiks, because of the pressure of the EU.

See? what used to be called "humane" now suddenly "looks bad"


Soon the Canadian seal hunt will be part of the past.

Anonymous said...

Anon you said: "Soon the Canadian seal hunt will be part of the past".

And then what are your scammers going to do to replace the millions and millions of dollars you suck off naieve people on the photogenics of the seal? The amount of money you bring in from the seal being your poster animal just cannot be duplicated on the back of any other animal. That is the reason the seal is used, year after year. Why aren't you concerned about the killing of other animals? The only animal that you speak of is the seal. No animals should be killed.

When the seal hunt comes to an end, that is when you will have a crisis on your hands in trying to find another animal that will lay a Golden Egg, that is the equivalent to the one laid by the seal. Of course most of the money from that Golden Egg goes to pay your high salaries just for carrying out Extreme Outdoor Adventures to the ice floes. This is only entertainment for you and your so called anti-seal protesters and your high paying passengers who travel with you to the ice.

Anonymous said...

No other animal is routinely bludgeoned to death for profit LEGALLY.

If the sealers can make money off the pelts, why can't groups make money off the anti-sealing campaign?? That money is needed to run the project. Duh.

Anonymous said...

How about the kangaroo of Australia? There are 6 million killed every year, there are other reports that state 9 million are killed. Some of the meat gets shipped to some locales in the world, but most of it go to dumpsites. You see kangaroos in Australia are viewed as pests. Please research that.

Also please take up the interests of those poor animals.

Mark said...

Anon (Sept 21, 2006 8:05)

Visit your local slaughter house and ask what a "pneumatic gun" is. Then try and state that no animal is routinely bludgeoned to death.

Oops! Pays to know what you are talking about.