I went North with the Hudson’s Bay Company in April of 1969, a young guy of 19 with a lot… Read More
I went North with the Hudson’s Bay Company in April of 1969, a young guy of 19 with a lot of curiosity about Inuit and the Arctic. I was also a kabloona, or white man, embarking on a journey that would shape me for the rest of my life.
My preliminary interview was at the Hudson’s Bay Company fur-buying warehouse in my home town of North Bay, Ontario. My brother had been doing some trapping while at high school and we sometimes went in to the HBC to buy a trap or two, or sell a few of his furs there. So I was familiar with the place.
I guess I passed the test, and next thing I was off to Winnipeg for more paperwork, a medical, and a bit of dental work. Then it was off to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, at 69° North, or about 3° above the Arctic Circle. I flew with the district manager in the company’s DC3 on skis. We got weathered in at Churchill, Manitoba for a couple days along the way.
Cambridge Bay was a larger regional centre by then, and I was mostly involved in retail sales to the Inuit, commonly called Eskimos at the time. Inuit were going through big changes then, moving in from camps to the settlement where there was a store, church, school, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The transition from igloos to wooden houses, and from dog teams to snowmobiles, was well under way. Unfortunately there was a lot of drinking at the time, in part because of the cross-cultural shocks, and I got tired of that aspect pretty quick.
After ten months I got an opportunity to move to Gjoa Haven, a small community of a couple hundred people on King William Island, near where John Franklin’s ships were subsequently found on the ocean bottom. I liked Gjoa Haven, which was named after Roald Amundsen’s ship Gjøa, which over-wintered there early in the 20th century. Both Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven have Inuktitut names now - Iqaluktuuttiaq and Uqsuqtuuq - and it is considered respectful to call the people Inuit, not Eskimos.
Gjoa was where I got my real appreciation of Inuit as denizens of the frozen land and seascape. There was virtually no drinking there, and I was able to get to know some of the people there very well.
I was manager-trainee which kept me busy doing everything from retail sales to book-keeping, and buying fur and carvings. I learned to grade white fox, ring and harp seals, wolf, and polar bear skins. We had an SSB radio to communicate with Cambridge and other communities as necessary, and we had an airplane once a week, a Twin Otter on floats or skis depending on the season.
Char, Geese, and Ptarmigans
I had a tent out by the river where I would spend weekends fishing for arctic char and hunting for Canada geese. In winter I went out with Inuit on occasion to check their fox traps. I bought myself a 15 HP Olympic snowmobile and I would go out hunting ptarmigans on the flat terrain in the area.
One could get lost very easily there so I had to be careful about whiteouts that could come up quickly. But generally I would be with Inuit friends, who were always happy to take out a kabloona like me and show me their ways. The relationship between employees of HBC, or Bay Boys, and the local people had always been quite good in the area. There were some Here Before Christ and Hungry Belly Company jibes that came with HBC having no competition, but generally things were fair.
I looked forward to getting out on a caribou hunt and finally I got my chance. Three Inuit hunters and I travelled over ice and land for the first day until we stopped at a likely looking spot with good drift snow and built an igloo. It was fascinating to observe and pitch in. It was done just in time as the weather turned nasty and we were in there for 24 hours. One of the hunters had found an owl nest with eggs so he took two, leaving the rest to hatch. Those were cooked in our tea on a primus stove inside. There was a drip, drip, drip from the uppermost point as things warmed up.
I recall one incident in particular in that igloo that summed up the importance of sharing everything. My companions observed me brushing my teeth and spitting out into a little hole I'd made in our snowy floor. They asked if they could use my toothbrush to do the same. My kabloona upbringing said absolutely not, but of course I had to consent!
As the weather cleared we were on the move again. We spotted some caribou and I downed one, while the Inuit were stalking some others. One was wounded and I was instructed to finish it by inserting my knife into its brain. Well, that was a bit hard, but it won some respect from my co-hunters. Back into another igloo for the night, we gorged ourselves on boiled and fried caribou meat. I had noted that very little of each caribou went to waste. The antlers were kept for carving, the skins for clothing, and virtually all the meat, even the contents of the caribou’s stomach that had the consistency of spinach.
Our final stop on this re-provisioning quest was a stop at an isolated DEW Line station where about a dozen kabloonas were attached to their radar screens for incoming Russian bombers and missiles. There was a canteen there, and after a bit of an icy welcome (very security-conscious in those days) we were allowed to purchase some cases of pop and chocolate bars, precious cargo as supplies of these in Gjoa were gone until ship-time in August. The cases of pop were wrapped in our sleeping bags and caribou skins in an effort to get them home before freezing.
A couple of kilometres from the community, we caught up with a dog team heading back from a hunt. We were two snowmobiles pulling loaded kamotiks (sleds) travelling at five times the speed. Our mode was more efficient in terms of time, if you were lucky enough to have one of the few wage jobs in the community. But as it was pointed out to me, you can eat your dogs if you get lost on the land, but you can’t eat your snowmobile. And those dogs can alert you and fight for you if you are attacked by a polar bear that can easily stand up and knock down your igloo to get at the goodies inside.
This first caribou hunting trip with three Inuit made for some good instruction in local customs and some treasured memories to this day. One of the hunters with me, Uriash Pokenak, later became a Member of the Legislative Assembly when the “new” Nunavut Territory was created in 1999. On a more sombre note, one of my colleagues from this hunt, Frank Sheeotinoak, was lost a few years later in a boating accident when he fell out of a boat in a rough ocean.
I spent three years with the Hudson’s Bay Company and it was good to me. I lived in five Arctic communities and did relief management in two Dene communities in northern Alberta. Good training, good fellowship, and good memories. I have a lasting appreciation of the traditional ties of our indigenous peoples to the land that has sustained them for so long.
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The American fur trade played an important role in the country’s history, and continues to provide employment for thousands of… Read More
The American fur trade played an important role in the country's history, and continues to provide employment for thousands of citizens today. In celebration of America's Independence Day this July 4, let’s meet just a few representatives of the modern fur trade!
Read on to hear from furbearer biologist Bryant White, who considers trapping a vital tool in the managing of wildlife. Next up is Bob Zimbal, whose mink farm in Wisconsin has been operating for sixty years. Then we're off to the Big Apple to talk with fur designer Maria Reich, who calls small businesses like hers "the heart of New York." And rounding out our series of July 4 interviews is another New Yorker, garment manufacturer Nick Pologeorgis, whose family history has been the American dream!
Bryant White – “Trapping Is Essential to Wildlife Management”
Bryant White is the Furbearer Research Program Manager with the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), currently based at the Arizona Game and Fish Department headquarters in Phoenix. Much of his work involves research related to Best Management Practices for the conservation of furbearing animals.
How is trapping regulated to ensure that it is done humanely
“Everything is based on research,” says Bryant. “Trapping seasons are opened only when the young of the year are autonomous and have set out to establish territories of their own. When necessary, harvest quotas protect vulnerable species. Types of trapping devices and how they may be used are also regulated, to ensure animal welfare as well as the safety of pets and the public."
And what does he think the public needs to know about
“I think we have to help the non-trapping public to
understand that trapping would be important even if no one wanted fur,” he
“Regulated trapping is now an essential element of responsible wildlife management in the USA. Many people don’t know that modern traps are used to capture animals, unharmed, to apply radio collars for research -- or to reintroduce species (wolves and river otters) into regions where they were previously eradicated."
We need to do a better job informing people of the important contributions that trappers make to our conservation efforts!
“Trapping is also essential to protect some thirty endangered species of plants and animals. Whooping cranes, for example, would almost certainly be completely extinct in the USA within two years if we didn’t aggressively trap predators like coyotes and foxes in their nesting areas. Endangered sea turtles are also protected by trapping raccoons and foxes that seek to dig up their eggs. Wolves must be managed to protect livestock, while beavers can cause millions of dollars of damage to forest habitat, water supplies, agricultural land, roads and other property by flooding. Skunks and raccoons in cities carry lethal diseases (rabies) and dangerous parasites, such as roundworm, which can migrate out of the intestines and can affect many organs and tissues, including the brain. They can be lethal."
Bryant believes that harvesting meat and fur from the wild is just as ethical as buying leather shoes, a steak dinner, or a can of chicken soup.
“What is important is that we hunt and trap in a responsible and sustainable fashion. Some people question the ethics of trapping animals for fur, but the fur trade actually helps us to protect furbearing species by giving them economic value. It’s all very good to say we care about wildlife, but when the tough decisions get made, economic value does matter. When someone comes to cut down the forest to build a new shopping mall, we can say, whoa, this forest does help the economy, it provides local income and resources from hunters and fishers and trappers – let’s leave it alone."
“Not least important, it’s hunters, fishers and trappers who
pay for the state agencies that monitor, manage and protect wildlife
populations and their habitat. They pay with their hunting, fishing and
trapping licenses. Without these revenues there would be no funding for the
wildlife agencies that manage most of the wildlife in this country!
“From our perspective, as biologists and wildlife agencies, trappers are managing wildlife and doing essential conservation work. We need these people and we should respect what they do. We have done opinion research and 80% of Americans say that it's OK to trap to protect habitat, it’s OK to trap to protect endangered species, it’s OK to manage wildlife to control disease or protect property. We need to do a better job informing people of the important contributions that trappers make to our conservation efforts!”
Raising mink is a lifestyle as much as a job, says Bob Zimbal, at his family farm in Wisconsin.
“When we come out in the morning, we look forward to feeding the animals and taking care of their needs,” he says.
“Sixty years ago my grandfather and my father started Zimbal Mink. Mink had not been domesticated for so very long, so there was a learning process how to care for the animals and feed them. As I child, I always helped on the farm, and my father taught me to pay attention to the animals and look at their health and each individual mink’s needs.
“The great thing about raising mink is that we can feed them proteins not used for human consumption, the parts of food animals that people don’t eat. So we’re recycling what would otherwise be wasted. All our mink feed is processed on-site, in our own feed kitchen, so it’s as fresh as possible.
“We work with nutritionists, because throughout the year, the minks' needs are always changing. When a mink is reproducing, its requirements are different than when it’s growing or furring. So our food is sent weekly to a laboratory to have it analyzed to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the mink."
“We have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. We can open
the roofs and sides and the air will flow through the building, to keep it
cooler in the summer. But also we can close it up in bad weather in the winter
to protect the animals from the environment.
“This facility is designed to make the mink comfortable, but also make it efficient for the people that are caring for the animals. So the way the bedding is put into the pens, the way they are kept clean – things like that are designed with what’s comfortable for the animal, but also what is efficient for the employees."
There’s a lot more involved in producing beautiful mink than most people understand!
“This is the heart of the fur fashion business in the US,” says Maria. “There are more than 1,500 people working in fur and affiliated businesses in New York City.”
“Our company was started by my late husband’s grandfather,
Charlie Reich, who arrived here from Poland in 1938. He fought in World War II,
and then returned to start Reich Furs. His great-granddaughter, Samantha Ortiz,
is now president of the company.
“I am a single working mom, and small businesses like ours are the heart of New York. We are a design-driven company and we directly employ 20 people, but we also work with – and provide work for – many other New York Garment District companies: designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers.
Every scrap is used for something and never goes to waste. We are constantly finding new ways to use and re-use fur!
“We are a fully integrated company. We do everything here,
from developing new designs, to producing apparel and accessories, which we
offer directly to consumers.
“When it comes to fur fashion, there are plenty of
misconceptions. It is more than just a luxury product, it is also a highly
regulated and sustainable industry.
“Many of our clients come in with their great grandmother's fur coat, wanting it restyled and modernized. There are not many materials you can do this with. We also up-cycle a lot of our furs. Every scrap is used for something and never goes to waste. We are constantly finding new ways to use and re-use fur!"
Nick’s father, Stanley, started Pologeorgis Furs in 1960, after arriving in New York from Crete. He apprenticed in a fur workshop without pay and became a master fur craftsman. He was one of the first furriers to forge relationships with top international designers, collaborating with Pierre Balmain from 1970.
Nick joined the business when he finished his degree in finance at Boston University, in 1984. His sister, Joan Pologeorgis, who graduated from New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology, serves as vice-president in charge of production and is co-owner. It has been a family-owned and operated business for over 60 years.
“We love fur; we love making beautiful clothing with one of nature’s most luxurious materials,” says Nick.
The Pologeorgis story is the American dream. My dad built our company from nothing, through hard work and dedication.
Pologeorgis has made furs for a long list of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Aretha Franklin, and Rihanna. “We made a beautiful white mink for Serena Williams,” he recalls.
“The business never stops changing. Fur is now used for accessories
and for home furnishings, making it much more accessible to more people. Fur is
even used to make felt for hats, and for rugs.
“Lifestyle is very important now too. There will always be the beautiful, classic garments, but you also want to have fun, not-so-precious pieces. The biggest trend is the mixing of fur with ready-to-wear fabric. How it all goes together is important.
“The Pologeorgis story is the American dream. My dad built our company from nothing, through hard work and dedication. Hard working, industrious immigrants continue to form the backbone of the fur market today. The fur trade supports thousands of families in New York and across America.”
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HAPPY CANADA DAY 2020! On the first day of July each year, we celebrate the uniting of three British colonies – the… Read More
HAPPY CANADA DAY 2020! On the first day of July each year, we celebrate the uniting of three British colonies – the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick – into one federation, the Dominion of Canada, on July 1, 1867. It’s also a fine time to reflect on the unique role played by the fur trade in shaping our country.
Historians recall the role played by Europeans searching for fur in opening up our vast lands. But we should also remember that fur trading had been practiced here for hundreds, if not thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
When French navigator and explorer Jacques Cartier first visited the island of Montreal in 1535, he found Montagnais hunters from what is now northern Quebec already trading fur for food produced by Iroquoian farmers in the St-Lawrence valley.
Fur trading between First Nations and Europeans began when French fishermen came to exploit the vast stocks of codfish off Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St-Lawrence. When Cartier landed on the coast of northern New Brunswick, in 1534, he met Indigenous people who clearly had experience with Europeans, holding up fur pelts on sticks and eager to trade.
In the five centuries that followed, Canada’s fur trade came to reflect the country’s cultural mosaic at its best: First Nations, French, English, Scots, Jews, Greeks and many others have worked together to build this remarkable heritage industry with its dynamic tradition of competition and cooperation.
(Click here for an expanded version of this interview.)
Like so many in the industry, Dan Kahnert’s relationship with fur is a family affair.
“My great-grandfather learned the fur trade in Germany and came to Canada in the late 1800s. His son, my grandfather, moved to Toronto where he would travel around taking orders, and then cut and sew coats in his home. It was my father, Allan, who opened our first showroom on Avenue Road in 1957, where Kahnert’s is still located.
“I would help out at the store on weekends, and decided by the end of high school that I wanted to join the family business. That’s what I did in 1984, after completing my degree in economics and business at the University of Western Ontario. I arrived home with all my college furniture and everything on April 30 and began working full-time in the store the next day; it was storage season and there was no time for a break!
“We worked hard, six days a week, but I enjoyed the challenges of running a business, being our own bosses, analysing problems and implementing a plan. My older brothers, Bernie and John, were already working at the store with my father, and John and I still run the business together today. It really helped that dad was very open to letting us try new ideas, like when I brought in computers in the 1990s.”
What does Dan like best about being a retail furrier?
“In addition to working with my brother and running our own business, what I enjoy most is the opportunity to meet lots of new people. While not every customer is easy, as everyone working in retail knows, generally we meet lots of very nice people. When we say, ‘It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,’ it’s not just a cliché, it really is how we feel.”
We are on the front line with consumers, and we are proud to do our part to promote fur on behalf of all the people who make up this uniquely Canadian heritage industry!
“Unfortunately, we have difficulty getting across our messages about the real environmental advantages of wearing fur. Fur is a sustainably produced, long-lasting, recyclable and biodegradable natural material. Animal activists have created very damaging confusion about the real environmental issues. It makes no sense telling people to use petroleum-based synthetics instead of long-lasting natural and biodegradable materials. The saddest thing is that most consumers we speak with do appreciate the warmth, comfort and beauty of natural fur, but they feel intimidated.
“We have adapted, of course: we will sell our customer a shearling coat – because, ironically, shearling is not seen as fur. Or a fur-lined coat. We have also added cashmere and other cloth coats, with or without fur trim. Not because there’s anything wrong with fur, but because fur has been tangled up in a very complex societal discussion about using animals, which includes everything from medical research to circuses to eating meat. Fur, unfortunately, has become a scapegoat, because we are really a very small-scale industry; we don’t have the financial or professional clout that large corporations can muster to tell their story when they are attacked.”
And the future?
“I don’t think fur will ever really go out of style, because it is so in tune with growing environmental concerns. We have to keep working on telling that story, but ultimately it is up to the consumer to make an educated decision on the benefits of buying fur products ” says Dan.
“But, bottom line, as a retailer your success depends on satisfying your customer. We are located in a wonderful residential neighbourhood and therefore do not rely on tourist sales that might occur in downtown Toronto. We rely on community word of mouth with support from our online business. We have one of the city’s best collections of high-quality coats, and we work hard to take good care of every customer. We are on the front line with consumers, and we are proud to do our part to promote fur on behalf of all the people who make up this uniquely Canadian heritage industry!”
If you’ve never heard of Farley Chatto, then you’re probably not in tune with fashion, and couture in particular. But if you love couture and Canadian design, Farley is probably a household name. Not only is he an internationally recognized designer, he is also a stylist for celebrities. He consults with Hollywood A-list hit TV shows and movies, including Suits, Christmas Chronicles, American Gods and more. As a Toronto resident, he is proud of his Canadian roots.
Farley’s love for fur began in his childhood. In winter, his father would pick him up from school wearing a muskrat-lined Royal Canadian Mounted Police hat. He remembers touching it and loving how soft it was, and thus began his love affair with fur. As he grew up in the 1980s, the fur was a staple as a must-have luxury item on TV shows.
“In the 1980s, Dynasty was a top-rated show depicting the lives of the rich and powerful, where fur and excessive fashion were a big part of the show’s popularity,” he recalls. “Then, one day, I asked my mother if I could have a sheared beaver bomber jacket for winter. Sadly I didn’t get the coat, yet I was hooked on the tactility of fur!”
People forget that this country exists because of fur. Fur is the fabric that bundled our nation together.
Farley continues to be proud that fur is as Canadian as apple pie is to Americans. Because fur is a staple in the fashion industry, he was anxious to incorporate it into his designs when he entered the field.
“Being a Canadian designer can be challenging,” he says. “I’ve been on the scene for 32 years, and the beginning wasn’t easy. I applied and was accepted to three fashion schools here and in the US, yet I decided to remain true to my roots and stay here. People forget that this country exists because of fur. Fur is the fabric that bundled our nation together.”
When asked on advice for young designers with interest in fur, Farley’s motto is: “If you have an opportunity, take it! Sign up for courses, join workshops, learn with First Nations people, put yourself out there.”
Wherever Farley travels, whether to teach or research, he touts the sustainability of fur fashion to others. As he says, it’s #furtastic.
Shawna Ujaralaaq Dias – Traditional Fur-Trimmed Parkas with a Modern Twist
As a child, Shawna lived for several years in a tiny settlement in Wager Bay, above the Arctic Circle on the extreme northwest coast of Hudson’s Bay.
“My grandfather had run the Hudson’s Bay post that was built there in 1925; there were only 15 people when my parents were living there, all family,” she says. “They would take the dog team to visit with other families nearby.
“It was a great life. My father hunted and trapped – foxes and wolves — and we were always outdoors, active and healthy – not like the kids who sit in front of computer screens these days!
“We kids would help to clean and scrape skins, and I began sewing by the time I was seven. I was using a sewing machine soon after that.”
The family moved about 300 kilometres south to Rankin Inlet, a small town (population 2,800, in 2016), so Shawna could attend school, but returned to their camp in Wager Bay each summer to hunt, fish and reconnect with the land.
“I didn’t even speak English until we moved to Rankin,” says Shawna. “We spoke Inuktitut, and I was lucky to learn all the traditional ways. These are the traditions I celebrate in my sewing.”
Now married with three grown children (18, 21 and 24) and a government job, Shawna never stopped sewing, and about ten years ago started her own business.
There is so much skill and creativity in the communities, and now with the Internet we have access to the world!
“People would see my fur-trimmed parkas and ask if I could make them one. Now I show new parkas on my Facebook page, and they are usually sold within 48 hours. Even though we live in a remote community, the Internet puts us into contact with customers across Canada and even in the US or beyond!”
Shawna now has more than 6,000 Facebook followers, and in 2017 she began selling dressed fur pelts, in addition to parkas.
“A lot of the ladies in small northern communities are sewers, but they often have difficulty finding fur pelts to work with. They really appreciate being able to get dressed furs from me up here.
“I like to promote the work of other ladies too,” said Shawna. “There is so much skill and creativity in the communities, and now with the Internet we have access to the world!”
So: with a government job and a growing sewing business, does Shawna still have time to connect with the land?
“For sure, we still go out to our hunting camp most weekends, and every summer. My husband only came north about 20 years ago, but he learned many hunting and trapping skills from my dad, and he loves the life here. My boys also hunt caribou and seals. We have a good life, and I am happy to be able to share some of the beauty of our Inuit culture with my sewing.”
CANADA'S FUR MANUFACTURERS
Christina Nacos – Re-inventing Fur for the Next Generation
Some people are born into the fur industry, some people choose it. For Christina Nacos, it was both.
Her father, Tom Nacos, is a legend of the Canadian fur industry. After learning the trade in his native village of Siatista, in the mountains of northern Greece, he emigrated to Montreal in the 1950s and proceeded to build one of North America’s most important fur manufacturing and retailing empires.
Christina crossed the ocean in the opposite direction, living in England for several years, where she worked in advertising. She returned to Canada in 1998 to work with Natural Furs, one of her father’s companies, and as one of the younger people leading a major company in the industry – and one of the very few women – she quickly began exploring ways to adapt fur for young people like herself.
“I think that each generation learns from their predecessors, but then has to make the industry their own, adapting fur for their time. That’s how fur has always evolved,” she says.
Under Christina’s leadership, Natural Furs was one of the first companies to participate actively in FurWorks Canada, an innovative project coordinated by the Fur Council of Canada to modernize fur fashion, mixing fur with other materials for a sportier look that reflected more modern, active lifestyles. Natural Furs was also a strong supporter of the Fur Council’s “Beautifully Canadian” collective branding initiative.
Christina is a strong believer in the important role of industry associations, especially in a sector made up of hundreds of small family businesses; she has served as vice-president of the Fur Council for many years.
As society thinks more deeply about the challenge of shifting to a more sustainable economy, fur will make more sense than ever.
Christina’s latest project to bring fur fashion into the 21st century is a major push to promote recycled – or “upcycled” – fur, to make fur more accessible and avoid waste. Branded as FURB Upcycled, the collection is attracting younger women who may never have worn fur before.
“We noticed that many young people were attracted by the nostalgia of remodelling furs they had inherited from their parents or grandparents. It’s a way to reconnect with the past, and it’s totally in synch with current efforts to prevent waste and use sustainable materials. Often we’re using the fur inside the garment, to maximize its warmth and functionality. We’re mixing upcycled fur with other materials, and exploring a more laid back, Scandinavian aesthetic.
“My sister-in-law, Sarah Nacos, has now joined me in the company. She’s 28, and brings the sensibility of an even younger generation of women to our designs,” she says.
“Each generation brings something new to fur. Young women today love the echo of the past in an upcycled piece, and they appreciate the durability of fur, which prevents waste – all important sustainability virtues.
“As society thinks more deeply about the challenge of shifting to a more sustainable economy, fur will make more sense than ever,” she says.
So Christina Nacos is continuing a family tradition in the best possible way: by totally rethinking how fur can be adapted for the next generation.
CANADA'S FIRST NATIONS
Robert Grandjambe – Deeply Connected to the Land
Robert Grandjambe Jr. is a Woodland Cree from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, whose roots go back to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, where generations of his family trapped to survive. For many southerners, and city dwellers in particular, his deep connection to the land may seem like a dream lifestyle, and sometimes even hard to understand, so it helps that he is committed to explaining it to anyone who will listen.
Trapping is a perfect example. “I think people need to better understand the importance of what trappers do, because I don’t think they get it,” he says. “We must educate people to understand that everything the trapper does contributes to a natural and sustainable way of life and the environment, and is crucial for the culture and health of our communities.”
Robert started learning trapping from his father when he was six years old, and now he’s determined to pass on everything he’s learned. Out of trapping season, when he’s not working as a contractor, he does presentations in schools about culture, craft-making, hunting and gathering, and of course trapping. Also receiving a solid grounding in what it means to live on the land is his toddler daughter.
“As a father you want to leave a legacy,” he says. “I want to give her all my knowledge and experience from the trapline, and from there she can choose her own path. So I will continue to bring her into this world, so she can understand and know it well.”
Among the lessons that Robert passes on is the importance of supporting your community at large, and for him this means providing food – as much as he can, be it moose, ducks, bison, bear, geese, or any of the other wild bounty the land provides. He views food as “the thing that brings us all together at the same table and sustains us, no matter who we are or where we come from.”
We always ask ourselves, how can we do it better when it comes to animal treatment?
As for trapping, one important aspect that is close to Robert’s heart – as it is for most trappers – is animal welfare. In part this might be because his great-great-grandfather trapped in the early 1900s alongside Frank Conibear, one of the founders of the humane trapping movement, who in turn learned much about respecting animals by working alongside Indigenous people.
Robert is adamant that concern over animal welfare is not a recent development forced on trappers by the animal rights movement. “We always ask ourselves, how can we do it better when it comes to animal treatment?” he says. “The standards have improved dramatically over the years and we still strive to keep improving. As trappers, we always focus on only taking what we need, and making sure we respect the animals and the environment.”
As for the future of wild fur, Robert has a positive outlook, despite the many challenges facing trappers. He may not have all the answers yet, but he’s confident the pieces are all there to make it happen.
“I truly believe trappers and wild fur will always have a place in this world,” he says. “We needed it once just to survive, but today it is about much more than that: It’s about social and cultural values, family values, our health and well-being, and protecting nature, ecosystems and the environment.”
D’Arcy Moses – First Nations Heritage Inspires Modern Fur Designs
(Click here for an expanded version of this interview.)
If you are looking for a designer who incarnates the Canadian fur trade’s rich cultural mosaic, D’Arcy Moses is an obvious choice. Adopted at birth and raised by a non-native farming family in Camrose, Alberta, D’Arcy set out to connect with his aboriginal roots after he left home. While his background sometimes left him feeling uncomfortable (“like an apple, red on the outside, white inside”), in Vancouver he met Leonard George, chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who assured him he could have the best of both worlds. “He told me, ‘You have the First Nations culture and you have the non-aboriginal culture. You can utilize that, because you can mix between cultures at ease.’”
D’Arcy’s chance to apply his unusual heritage to designing clothing came at the Toronto Fashion Incubator, and in 1991 his work was featured at the Toronto Festival of Fashion. Then he was invited to Montreal by the Fur Council of Canada, and began working with one of the country’s most important luxury apparel manufacturers, Natural Furs.
The unique, aboriginally inspired collections D’Arcy developed went to high-end retailers in North America, Europe and Asia, and a retrospective collection of his work was recently added by the Government of the Northwest Territories to its permanent collection of Indigenous arts and crafts.
Progressives who want to ban fur need to look at the whole ecosystem, the broader impact of industries, not just the individual animal.
Then in 1996 his life took another unusual turn. After CBC aired a documentary about him, he received a call from the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, in Wrigley, NWT. Moses is a common family name there, and they had been looking for him. So D’Arcy left the glamour and hectic pace of international fashion to settle in the home he had never known. His business experience landed him a government job, but sewing and designing were never far from his mind.
Twelve years later he had saved the funds needed for his current project: a workshop in Enterprise, NWT, a community even smaller and more remote than Wrigley. “I needed somewhere I wouldn’t be distracted from my design work,” he says.
And the work has been abundant and diverse. In January, D’Arcy participated in a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and he will return to Banff to lead a workshop for Indigenous design students from around the world. “We will be using traditional techniques to re-purpose fur, leather and other natural materials,” he says.
“Many people in my community still hunt and trap, and their attachment to the land is very strong. But natural materials like fur are also important at a time when people are increasingly concerned about protecting our natural environment. So-called ‘fast fashion’ is killing the Earth.
“Progressives who want to ban fur need to look at the whole ecosystem, the broader impact of industries, not just the individual animal. When we look at the whole picture, from sourcing to use and maintenance, through to disposal, it is clear that we should be using responsibly and sustainably sourced natural materials – wool, leather, fur. The First Nations understood that we are part of nature and that we have an obligation to use resources with respect. I hope that my designs, marrying traditional and modern themes, can help people remember these important lessons,” says D’Arcy.
Tom McLellan – Mink Farming Maintains Proud Rural Heritage
Tom McLellan, a third-generation mink farmer from Ontario, feels tremendous pride when he speaks of his family’s history and their contribution to the early agricultural economy in Canada. “It is comforting to know that my family has been a part of what helped shape Canada into the nation that it is today,” he says.
“My father and his father before him loved working with animals and, being a part of Canada’s agricultural development just made the work even more satisfying. Now my sons are learning about fur and our connection to the birth of our great nation. It’s a wonderful feeling,” he says.
We are always studying the science behind mink farming to improve the health of our animals and make them comfortable and happy.
The early days of the fur trade focused on trapping, and the beaver pelt was the motor of the economy. By the end of the 19th century, Canadians were pioneering fur farming as the way to produce uniform, high-quality pelts without overexploiting wild populations. Over time, farmed mink became the most popular fur for consumers who appreciated the warmth and luxury.
“Improving the quality of the fur and keeping our animals healthy is what keeps us going on a daily basis,” says Tom. “We are always studying the science behind mink farming to improve the health of our animals and make them comfortable and happy.”
Canadian mink farmers are proud to produce some of the finest furs in the world, and also of their commitment to animal welfare. They follow codes of practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council, and their farms are certified by independent auditors. This Canadian heritage industry is proud of its past and, equally important, is well positioned to continue supporting rural communities.
What makes someone get up early each morning and put in long days on the farm?
“We are proud of the care we provide for our animals,” says Joe Williams who, with his two brothers, runs two mink farms in the lower mainland of British Columbia.
“It’s a family tradition, and fur is part of Canada’s heritage,” says Joe.
“Canadians pioneered the farm raising of furbearing animals, foxes on Prince Edward Island and mink in Ontario, and we are proud to be part of that heritage.
“My father started his first farm in 1990, and I would help him on weekends and after school,” he recalls.
“For sure it’s lots of hard work, but it’s rewarding. I like working for myself and being outdoors and caring for the animals. There’s a satisfaction in following the full cycle with the animals, from breeding season, to whelping and ensuring the pups are healthy, right through to the final product.
“I am also lucky to be working with my brothers,” says Joe.
What would he like people to know about mink farming?
“I would like people to understand how hard we work to keep our mink healthy and content. Every day we are adjusting their care and nutrition, depending on the time of year and their growth cycle. The proportion of proteins and fats and other elements are adjusted depending on whether the mink are being prepared for mating or whelping or growth. We are learning all the time.
“And then we are maintaining pens and barns and equipment; mixing feed; planning genetics for the next mating season, working to improve our herd.
“There’s a lot more that goes into this than most people understand. And, honestly, if you don’t care about the health and welfare of the mink, you really can’t do a good job; it will show in the quality of the fur you produce.”
Fur makes more sense than ever in our eco-conscious times!
And what would Joe say to a consumer considering the purchase of fur apparel or accessories?
“I would like consumers to know that fur is produced responsibly and sustainably. Mink are carnivores; they are fed left-overs from our food production system, the parts of chickens, pigs, fish and other animals we don’t eat and would otherwise end up in landfills.
“We basically recycle those ‘wastes’ by feeding mink to produce a warm, beautiful and long-lasting natural clothing material,” says Joe.
“At a time when we are all looking for ways to ensure that our lifestyle choices are helping to protect nature for future generations, I would like consumers to know they can wear fur with pride. Fur is an important part of our Canadian and North American heritage. And fur makes more sense than ever in our eco-conscious times!”
"The love of Canada and our national heritage is nowhere better reflected than in the fur trade," says Katie. "For me to be a part of this incredible industry is beyond humbling. Spending time out in the wilderness and being at one with Mother Nature and learning from my father is where my pride begins.
"I know that we are using the most humane methods possible, and respecting the delicate balance of nature to ensure viable populations for years to come. So I take pride in carrying on my family traditions, while playing the role as a steward of the land. There is no better way to spend one's time than with family, doing what you love."
Katie then takes this a step further, turning raw pelts into stunning fur garments.
"For me to be able to take this passion and turn it into a creative, fashionable yet functional wild fur product to be enjoyed for generations to come, is also a gift I hold dear," she says. "Nature and the fur trade itself have been major influences in my daily life that allow me to translate them into usable pieces of art and heritage. Being able to express myself through my creations has allowed me to grow as an individual."
Standing side by side with some of the most respected people in our industry that I call family and friends, is what lets me know I am where I belong.
"However, true pride shines brightest within the fur community if you ask me. The camaraderie between trappers and their families is unrivalled. The way we share our knowledge with one another, as well as the willingness to help educate newcomers, strengthens our friendships and grows our community as a whole. Trappers and their families are a closely knit community no matter where you go. There are always friendly smiles and stories to be heard."
Completing the picture, as it were, of a lady who lives and breathes fur, is Katie's involvement in advocacy.
"Finally, knowing that I have the backing from my local trappers council, as well as the Ontario trappers, is where my creativity, passion and strength come together. Helping fight for the rights of trappers, all the while educating the public about why the fur trade is so important to Canadians. Standing side by side with some of the most respected people in our industry that I call family and friends, is what lets me know I am where I belong.
"So be it on the trapline, in the studio, or at a board meeting, I know that what I do and love makes a difference. By being a part of this vast community and historical trade, with so much more to be shared and done in the near future, I cannot wait to see where we as a whole will take it.
"This is how we grow as a community, and these are just a few of the many reasons why I am proud to be a trapper."
Robin Horwath – Trappers Are "Great Stewards of the Land"
Hailing from Blind River, Ontario, Robin Horwath started helping his father on the trapline at the age of 12. In so doing, he became the next torchbearer of a family tradition that dates back to both his grandfathers.
"As we go through life, it is not always clear at the time what or who influenced us along the way," he says. "When my Grandpa Temple died at the age of 99, I saw a photo of him in an album for the first time. It was taken in 1928, and shows skunks and muskrats hanging on a shed, all skinned, boarded and ready to sell. Today, that photo is on my desk at work.
"When I was still nine or ten, I remember both him and my Grandpa Horwath telling me that they both had trapped skunks and muskrats. At the start of the Great Depression, they were paid $3 a muskrat and $5 a skunk. When I saw the picture of Grandpa Temple, it brought back all the stories they had told me as a child.
"My father was a great influence also, as he taught me to hunt, trap and fish as I grew up, and learn our family's traditions and values.
"So I am proud to have carried on my family's way of life. I have followed in the footsteps of my grandfathers and father, joined by my brother and my son. And hopefully my two young grandsons will want to do the same in the future."
Aside from the personal pride Robin has in continuing his family's heritage, he's also committed to serving others in the trade. Today he is both general manager for the Ontario Fur Managers Federation and a board member of the Fur Institute of Canada. So what path did he follow to reach this point?
"After studying in Iron Bridge under trapping instructor Walter Tonelli, I got my first trapping license in 1981 to help my father on his registered trapline, and I've held one ever since. In 1995 I became a director for the Blind River Trappers Council, and in 1996 I studied to be a trapping instructor in Thunder Bay as part of a program run by the Ontario Fur Managers Federation and the Ministry of Natural Resources. And by 2010, I was the OFMF's general manager!"
If you are a trapper, don’t be afraid to introduce someone new to what and why we trap. And if you are not a trapper, take the opportunity to ask if you can tag along.
So what motivates him to give so much of his time in the service of others?
"I am very proud to be a part of Canada’s fur trade," he explains, "and I have had great opportunities in my life to be able to help promote, educate and train people in its traditions and heritage. It is amazing when you think that the Hudson's Bay Company received its royal charter in 1670 - so 2020 is the HBC’s 350th anniversary, making it one of the longest-running corporations in the world. Trapping is what drove the exploration and development of this great land we call Canada.
"I never thought when I started trapping that I would end up representing trappers provincially and nationally on behalf of the OFMF and the Fur Institute. It's a great privilege."
So what advice does he have for others looking to get involved in promoting the fur trade?
"I dream of the day when trappers once again are recognized and valued by the general public as great stewards of the land. Trapping is a vital tool for managing furbearers to achieve healthy sustainable populations, to protect infrastructure, and control the spread of disease, which is important not just for the animals but also for humans.
"So if you are a trapper, don’t be afraid to introduce someone new to what and why we trap. And if you are not a trapper, take the opportunity to ask if you can tag along to see what it is all about for yourself, so you can make your own informed opinion on why trapping needs to continue."
As the oldest trappers’ organization in Canada, the British Columbia Trappers Association marks its 75th anniversary this year, but celebrations… Read More
As the oldest trappers’ organization in Canada, the British Columbia Trappers Association marks its 75th anniversary this year, but celebrations will be muted thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. TruthAboutFur visited with BCTA president Tim Killey to learn about all the exciting events that were planned but sadly now have been postponed.
TruthAboutFur: So Tim, the British Columbia Trappers Association was preparing for some special celebrations on the west coast this year, but the coronavirus has put a stop to all that. It must be terribly frustrating, but can you at least tell us about some of what was planned, and what may yet happen?
Tim Killey: Yes, the BCTA wanted to celebrate its 75th anniversary at our annual meeting in Kamloops, April 24-26, and we were certainly planning to have some fun!
You know, Kamloops was an original Hudson’s Bay Company
trading post, so we were asking people to imagine they were coming to a
Rendez-Vous, when trappers would gather at the fort to sell their furs. We were
hoping that many would dress in old-time clothing and really play the part. We
also planned to launch our Hall of Fame to recognize some of the heroes of our
industry, and the contributions they have made.
TaF: Tell us about some of those people.
Killey: Well, we want to recognize people like Wayne Sharp, one of our oldest members, who ran the Prince George fur depot for many years. There was a time when it was said that if a piece of fur came out of BC, it probably went through Wayne’s hands.
TaF: People like that must have some great stories to tell.
Killey: Oh yes, like many old timers, Wayne is a great story teller, and we were looking forward to hearing some of his adventures during our “Campfire Tales” sessions. They were also going to be part of a live podcast by our special guests Rich and Sandi Mellon, hosts of Wild TV’s hit series Trapping Inc.
TaF: I believe you also planned to use the Rendez-Vous to highlight some of the contributions trappers make to conservation.
Killey: Yes, we would like people to know about success stories like how wolverine and fisher from BC were live-captured and reintroduced into Washington State. Or how we work to encourage forestry practices that better protect wildlife habitat – like not spraying to kill deciduous growth in pine plantations. We also want to talk about our BC Trappers Training Program, which we think is one of the best on the continent. Our program now includes three full 8-hour days where trappers learn about wildlife management, regulations and modern trapping methods, as well as the best fur-handling techniques, to ensure that the resource is well used.
We feel it’s important to encourage young people to get away from their laptops and cellphones for a while, and learn the skills they need to get out into nature.
TaF: And I hear you wanted to make this a real family event.
Killey: That’s right. We have a strong Youth Program, and the Rendez-Vous was to be free for kids up to 14 years old. We planned a special muskrat skinning competition for young people this year, as well as an organized visit to a wildlife park. And workshops on bush survival skills, leather and bead work, and even a session where they would build a bird house. We feel it’s important to encourage young people to get away from their laptops and cellphones for a while, and learn the skills they need to get out into nature.
TaF: Trapper conventions are also a good opportunity to share scientific information with biologists, aren’t they?
Killey: For sure. We’d planned several presentations from government biologists and veterinarians, for example about identifying wildlife diseases, and reports on new studies about key species. And, of course, this relationship works both ways, because trappers assist in providing samples or observational data for the research biologists.
TaF: It must also help to have good relations with your political leaders.
Killey: Yes, we’re lucky to have some politicians who understand and appreciate our industry. One of our speakers was to be Mike Morris, who is an MLA, an elected member of the provincial Legislative Assembly, and a trapper himself. We also have excellent relations with our wildlife department. We worked with them, for example, to develop signage we can use to warn the public to keep dogs on leashes during trapping season.
TaF: And what about you, Tim? How did you get involved in trapping?
Killey: That’s interesting, because although I have hunted since I was young, I’ve only been trapping for 12 years. My wife’s dad was a trapper and he’s the one who brought me out onto the trapline. I took to it with a passion, became an instructor, and then a board member of the association, and now president. I guess I don’t know how to say no, but like for so many of us, trapping is really a passion for me.
TaF: And how do you see the future for trapping?
Killey: Despite the current low prices for most species, there are definitely some positive signs. For one thing, lately we’ve been seeing a definite uptick in the number of young people taking our trapper education courses. I think it may be the reality TV shows that have attracted new people, including more women.
On the downside, our biggest concern right now, of course - like for everyone else - is Covid-19. We’d hoped the crisis would die down by the end of April so we wouldn’t have to postpone our meeting in Kamloops, but it's now clear that's not going to happen. Whatever happens, though, we’re planning a special collectors’ edition of our magazine for October, to celebrate the history of BC trappers. We’ll highlight past presidents, and we’re inviting everyone to contribute their memories and stories.
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Cree trapper Robert Grandjambe Jr. shares his views about Covid-19. If you are in the fur trade and want to… Read More
Cree trapper Robert Grandjambe Jr. shares his views about Covid-19. If you are in the fur trade and want to tell us how the pandemic is affecting you, please email us at [email protected].
Like everyone, I first learned of the new coronavirus through the news. And like everyone, I didn’t think it was too serious at the time. It seemed like it would be pretty easily contained and was just passing news. When a few of our contracts were cancelled due to the virus, now being called Covid-19, my girlfriend and I made a decision to return to the bush. At that point, the growing concern still didn’t seem to me to be something to worry too much about, but rather was another opportunity to spend time on the Land.
Since we have been out here, events continued to be cancelled, and the gravity of the situation has begun to set in. There is limited cell service at my cabin, and so while we are getting the odd update, we are not connected to the common news reel. I am now realizing that most of the entire world has watched and listened as the situation unfolded into a global pandemic, and the threat to civilization it has become.
The Covid-19 outbreak seems like a symptom of a world that is not in harmony with the Land. ... Climate change, pollution, and other environmental signs shout out that our systems are in trouble.
I think the world is awakening to the crisis now, but in many ways it has been with us for a long while. The Covid-19 outbreak seems like a symptom of a world that is not in harmony with the Land, and it is a tragedy to hear of all the lives lost. Climate change, pollution, and other environmental signs shout out that our systems are in trouble.
Clearly, we need a reset of our priorities, and there are some signs we may be ready for the wake-up. Just a month ago, big business was looking at the Teck Frontier mine as the big new opportunity. The last-minute cancellation rang the bell for the reorganization of the collective priorities of society. Now, we are hearing of the price of oil plummeting, and feeling the effects of the fragility of an economy that is not diversified, sustainable, or renewable. Governments, big business, and industry are not in reciprocal relationships with people or with the Land.
Despite all of this, as a man living
with the Land, I maintain a sense of prosperity. I am confident that regardless
of what happens with Covid-19, because of my skills and knowledge, I will
always survive and thrive. I remain optimistic that the worst of the disease
will be contained, and the pandemic can be the awakening that humanity needs -
hopefully without being too damaging for our families and communities.
Fact is, I am one of the ones left who is able to maintain my ancestral relationship with this Land, that is now called Wood Buffalo National Park. As Indigenous peoples, this was our home. This was where our ancestors walked, harvested, ate, shared, struggled, loved, and died. We were here long before it was ever a park. Our ancestors lived out here in large numbers, and their absence now is not their fault, nor is it the fault of any other Nation with traditional ties to this area. We have had to deal with a long and deliberate system of oppression. It is this same system of severing ties with the Land that has our world in so much crisis today.
Personally, I feel the importance of living in harmony with the Land every day we are here. I always have felt this way. It is incredibly important to maintain a relationship with the Land. There is no place I would rather be. It feels extra comforting to be here during a crisis like this. We are taken care of by the bounty of the Land - hunting, trapping, fresh water, and air. I feel enormous comfort in knowing that the Land and our ancestors will care for our health - physically, but also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
Better Model of Governance?
It has not been easy. I have to work hard and consciously to maintain the connection for myself. For example, I have fought for five years to have a harvesting cabin at nearby Pine Lake, only 100 kilometers from the cabin where I am now. Today, I am still fighting rules and regulations that fail to respect the inherent rights of Indigenous systems that are deeply connected with Lands, and with the sacredness of our old relationships. This oppression comes directly from a Western system that has caused division – between Peoples and Nations, and also between each of us and our Lands. In this time of crisis, maybe we will begin to see the consequences of these Western systems of governance and control, and we can move forward to a better model. One that is healthier for us all – both here in the park, and indeed, across all the Lands in Canada.
The Land always has the final say, and we are being reminded of that.
Indigenous peoples have to come together, to be strong, and to share these strengths for our existence moving forward. We need to be creative and find ways to share our knowledge. Indigenous peoples know the value of the Land and have always shared it willingly. We are resilient, and continue to be through colonization and all the imposed concepts of ownership that attempt to destroy our connection with our Lands. This is where I feel my strength - through resilience - and I will continue to develop ways to share, despite what happens in the world around me.
Today, we are at Moose Island in the boreal forest, and we are content. We are also sending love and healing to everyone going through this uncertain time in their own ways. I want to encourage you, if you can, to take the opportunity to get on the Land, wherever you are. It is important to take care of our own hearts and spirits at this time - and I truly believe our connections with Nature are a big part of the solution moving forward. The Land always has the final say, and we are being reminded of that.
City’s Fur Ban an “Unconstitutional Attack on Consumer Rights” The International Fur Federation (IFF) has launched litigation to prevent San… Read More
City’s Fur Ban an “Unconstitutional Attack on Consumer Rights”
The International Fur Federation (IFF) has launched litigation to prevent San Francisco from implementing a city ordinance banning the sale of fur. The ordinance, passed in 2018, gave existing department stores until Jan. 1, 2020, to sell off their remaining fur stock and prohibits the sale of newly manufactured fur coats, hats, gloves, fur-trimmed parkas, and other products.
The lawsuit, filed on January 13, argues San Francisco has “no legitimate local interest to ban fur sales” and that the ordinance is an “unconstitutional restriction on interstate and foreign commerce”.
“In an attempt to legislate morality, Supervisor Katy Tang,
sponsor of the ban, stated that businesses ‘need to get with the times.’ Yet
the current times do not allow for ignoring the Constitution’s prohibition on
restraining interstate commerce,” said Mike Brown, the IFF’s CEO for North
“Proponents of San Francisco’s fur ban, including the
radical animal rights group PETA, also want the sale of leather, wool, and
other animal products to be banned,” said Brown.
Contrary to San Francisco city council claims, fur products remain popular with consumers in that city and nationwide. Fur sales in San Francisco alone are estimated to be $40 million annually. Globally, the fur industry is a $23 billion business. A 2019 Gallup poll also confirmed that a majority of Americans believe that it is morally acceptable to wear fur.
While fur producers worldwide are complying with the humane standards under the IFF’s new FurMark program, San Francisco’s fur ban is so extreme that it blocks even humanely certified products. FurMark is a certification program to provide consumers with assurance about animal welfare and sustainability standards in place for the production of fur products in North America and Europe.
The San Francisco fur ban is completely arbitrary and creates a troubling precedent for other responsibly produced animal products. “If this law is allowed to stand, there’s nothing stopping San Francisco from banning wool, leather, meat, or other products that a small group of activists don’t approve of,” said Mark Oaten, CEO of the IFF.
“Californians should have no fewer rights than residents of other states. They should be free to buy legally produced goods unless there is a public safety or health issue - which does not exist here,” said Oaten.
Counter-Productive in Fight Against Pollution
Along with harming local businesses, San Francisco’s fur ban
will have unintended consequences that damage California’s efforts to fight
pollution, because the “fake fur” alternatives to natural fur are made with
petroleum. Research is showing that these synthetics shed microfibers into the
waterways when they are cleaned. Plastic microfibers are now even being found
in marine life. A single garment can shed 100,000 microfibers in the wash.
“Plastic microfibers are a leading cause of ocean pollution, in San Francisco Bay and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The National Science Foundation recently announced that microplastics may be 1 million times more prevalent than previously estimated,” said Oaten.
The IFF lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal challenges to California’s attempt to legislate “morality”. The state of Louisiana and a coalition of members of the alligator/crocodile supply chain have sued California over its ban on alligator and crocodile products, which was slated to take effect Jan. 1. As a result, a temporary stay was imposed on the implementation of this ban.
The fur industry’s legal challenge zeroes in on the constitutionality of state and municipal fur bans in California under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. Additionally, legal experts believe US states cannot arbitrarily ban products from foreign countries from being sold under free-trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The IFF lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Los Angeles and the California state legislature also passed fur bans in 2019, but they do not take effect for several years.
“California’s fur bans are an arbitrary assault on consumer choice and retail businesses," said Brown. "These laws ban a responsibly and legally produced natural product from the marketplace simply because certain special interests don’t like the product. This is a startling precedent, to impose the morality of specific groups onto all citizens. There is no legitimate issue of public health and safety behind fur bans - simply a belief by some lawmakers that they don’t like fur, and therefore no one should be allowed to buy it."
Kwasny set out to “investigate the history and ongoing
relationship forged between humans and the nonhuman animals whom we still
depend on to clothe and adorn us.” In this quest, she says, “one of my goals
has been to meet and learn from people who spend their lives working with these
animals – hunters, trappers, farmers, ranchers and shepherds – and find
out what their experience can teach the
rest of us in a broader sense about our place in nature.”
She also sought to explore the “time-consuming process of
making and, therefore, interacting with the material these animals provide, by
hearing from tanners, spinners, weavers, sewers, dyers, and artisans of all
What does it mean, she asks, for us as consumers (and as
individuals) to have lost connection with the source of our clothing, now that
few of us make our own anymore?
“Putting on the dog” is an American expression meaning to get dressed up for a special occasion, perhaps derived from the stiff “dog collar” shirts once worn for formal events at Yale University. Kwasny finds it an appropriate title for her book because it reminds us that the materials animals provide “are precious, given that they often require the loss of an animal’s life and hours of care from those humans who have hunted it, raised it, and crafted painstakingly elegant and practical things from it.”
What follows is a fascinating voyage into the world of six important animal products: leather (including sheepskin), wool (including cashmere, angora, and mohair), silk, feathers (including down), pearls, and fur. Her voyage takes her – and us -- from Alaska’s tundra to sheep farms atop Montana’s Continental Divide, from silkworm farms in northern Japan to a mink farm on Denmark’s western coast, and to pearl beds in the Sea of Cortes.
Her first stop is a visit to a Yu’pik community in Alaska where she considers the aboriginal understanding of how animals “give themselves” to the hunter. “The worst thing is to not appreciate that gift or to turn it down,” she writes. For the Yupiit – like other aboriginal peoples -- making beautiful clothing from these gifts is a way to pay respect to the animals that provide them. As Barry Lopez wrote in his 1986 masterpiece Arctic Dreams, “It was the gift rather than the death that was preeminent in the Eskimo view of hunting.” (PETA take note!)
Kwasny then explores commercial leather production, tracing the process back from wholesalers and tanners, to the abattoir and cattle ranches, becoming aware of the skills, knowledge - and the animals - incarnated in that beautiful leather wallet, jacket, or pair of shoes.
The next chapter recounts the remarkable history of wool since the domestication of sheep some 8,000 years ago. As an indicator of the economic importance of wool in British history, Kwasny reminds us that the Lord Speaker of the UK's House of Lords "today literally sits on a sack of wool, the ‘Woolsack’.” The wool industry has also been good for sheep: there is now one sheep for every six people on Earth.
Kwasny visits people who are raising traditional breeds (including some that produce natural colour ranges, without dyeing), as well as artisanal spinners whose wool commands premium prices among knitters ready to pay the price to know by who and how their materials were produced. “They want to be assured their wool is ‘green’, that the processing of their wool has low impact on the earth. They like to think about what flock it comes from.” (Could that be a market trend for the fur industry to consider as we implement traceability with the International Fur Federation’s FurMark?)
At the other extreme, Kwasny exposes the impact of global demand for cheap cashmere. Over the past 50 years, the domestic goat population of Inner Mongolia has soared from about 2.4 million to more than 25.6 million, resulting in overgrazing and, in some cases, desertification of fragile grasslands.
The chapter on silk production tells a fascinating story that will be new to most of us. “No one who has heard the sound will ever forget the low all-night roar created by the munching of thousands of voracious silk worms in a Japanese mountain farm-house!” In one interesting section, producers respond to critics concerned that the silkworms - which are actually caterpillars of the silk moth - must be killed to extract their silk. About 150 silkworm cocoons are needed to produce a silk scarf or tie – and up to 9,000 cocoons for a single traditional Japanese lady’s silk kimono and undergarment. But if all the pupae were allowed to hatch into moths, silk farmers explain, there would not be enough mulberry leaves in the world to feed the next generation. In fact, after so many centuries of cultivation, silkworms have lost their ability to find food on their own, while the moths can no longer mate without help. “The silkworm is a human invention now.” Furthermore, sericulture is environment-friendly, using little energy and a fraction of the water needed to grow cotton, while mulberry trees produce oxygen and nutrients for the soil. In contrast, cotton – a vegan clothing material of choice - accounts for 3% of global water consumption and 7% of US pesticide use, Kwasny reminds us.
A chapter on the evolving use of feathers and down is equally fascinating. Ostrich feathers, Kwasny recounts, became hugely popular when Eugénie de Montijo, the last Empress of France as the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, wore one on her hat, and were worth nearly as much as diamonds (by weight) by the beginning of the 20th century. At the market’s height, in the 1890s, South Africa was feeding and plucking a million ostriches a year. (In an interesting parallel with the fur trade, more than 90% of the South African feather merchants were Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms in Russia.) Most of these feathers went to England, centre of the global millinery trade, and when the Titanic went down in 1912, en route to New York, some 20,000 pounds of ostrich feathers sank with it. Kwasny also provides an interesting overview of modern down production, mostly for pillows and quilts but also for the lightweight coats and parkas that often include fur-trimmed hoods.
The chapter on pearls includes a short history of the industry and its current evolution, including concerns for sustainability. Who knew that pearls were the most valuable resource the Spanish found in South America, until they began mining silver in Bolivia and Peru? Or that one of the world’s most famous pearls is named La Peregrina - The Wanderer. Pear-shaped and the size of a dove’s egg, this extraordinary pearl was bought by King Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598), who designated it an official Spanish Crown Jewel. It later "wandered" to France, so gaining its name, and then England, until in 1969 it was purchased at auction by Richard Burton, for $37,000, as a Valentine’s gift for Elizabeth Taylor. In 2011 it sold for $11 million.
Grappling with Fur
The final chapter is about fur, and it is here that Kwasny clearly has the most difficulty. The chapter begins with her visit to a Danish mink farm on the Jutland coast, where she sees for herself that the animals are well cared for. Nonetheless, while perusing fashion photos, Kwasny reflects that fur seems somehow too ostentatious; no one she knows wears fur. “Conspicuous consumption seems less relevant to our lives,” she observes. To her credit, however, she wonders “how much of my attitude has been conditioned by the advertising budgets of PETA.”
What constitutes an ethical relationship with animals? she wonders. "Do I sincerely wish that there were no more mink farmers like the Kvist Jensens? Am I ready to demand the extinguishing of all such rural knowledge, of this husbandry, passed between generations, of this culture of seasons, weather, tools, the farmers’ ‘gear and tackle and trim,’ and instead offer my homage to the chemists who make each day anew our pleather and polyester and faux fur?”
Kwasny is an honest investigator, but the fur cause is not helped when a fur farmer and then an auction employee – while admitting they know nothing about it - tell her they think trapping is cruel. And while Kwasny does quote biologists, the International Fur Federation, and even my own writings to explain the environmental credentials of fur as a sustainably produced natural material, her section on trapping is perhaps the weakest. Unlike the other sections, this one is based solely on secondary sources – including claims by anti-fur groups that are left unanswered. To her credit, Kwasny does clearly report the serious environmental problems of synthetics, including fake furs.
Kwasny acknowledges that when she began her book, she knew fur would be the most difficult chapter for her to write. Though we eat meat, and wear leather, wool and silk, “fur alone brings us face to face with the fact that we need to kill for it. Fur is the least transformed of all animal products.”
Interestingly, Kwasny ends her book with a call for moderation. Everything we use comes from nature, and, contrary to PETA’s claims, she recognizes that it is not possible to live on this Earth without using resources and harming other beings. The only ethical response to this dilemma, she proposes, is to consume less. Buy less but better-quality clothing, especially from natural sources – plants and animals – and care for them so they last as long as possible. Sounds like a great sales pitch for fur!
In summary, while parts of the fur section will cause people who know the industry – especially trappers - to squirm with frustration, Melissa Kwasny has produced an interesting and worthwhile read. She reminds us of the fascinating range of skills and knowledge maintained by people who work with animals, and the materials those animals provide. I only hope that a good trapper will invite her out onto the land to more fully understand that experience before she writes the second edition of Putting on the Dog.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
Recent proposals to ban the sale of fur in several US cities and states are based on a fiction –… Read More
Recent proposals to ban the sale of fur in several US cities and states are based on a fiction – a dangerous fiction – the origins of which can be traced back more than 30,000 years. That’s when, as Yuval Noah Harari recounts in his popular book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a remarkable mutation occurred in the brains of one of the six human-like species that then existed. That mutation, scientists speculate, allowed our ancestors to do something no animal had ever done: live in an imaginary world.
To understand the importance of this breakthrough, consider money, nations, and human rights, to name just a few vital elements of our civilization. Unlike rocks, trees and other things we see around us, these important concepts exist only because we believe in them and act accordingly. Money, for example, has value only because we all agree that it does -- so people will give us stuff for it.
The ability to act as if such “fictions” really exist is central to what makes us human. It gives sense to our lives and allows us to work together in large groups for common purposes. But our fictions can also lead us seriously astray: think of Nazism or Communism. Both promised a better life but delivered only misery, not least because they were based on erroneous ideas about humanity: Aryans are not a superior race, and central planning is not efficient. A similar disconnect with reality lies at the heart of recent proposals to ban the sale of fur products in certain US cities and states. Let’s take a closer look.
Justifications for Banning Fur
There are only two possible justifications for banning fur. The first would be if fur were not produced responsibly. Most of us believe that it is morally acceptable to use animals for food and other purposes so long as species are not depleted (sustainability) and the animals are raised and killed with as little suffering as possible (animal welfare). As documented throughout the TruthAboutFur website, the modern fur trade satisfies these moral requirements: both wild and farmed furs are now produced at least as responsibly and sustainably as other animals we use for food, leather and other purposes. *
But if fur is produced responsibly, the only remaining rationale for banning it would be to claim that any killing of animals is wrong. This idea has been elaborated over the past forty years by Peter Singer, Tom Regan and other “animal rights” philosophers. Simply put, they argue that the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of “non-human animals” deserve the same respect as those of humans. Just as discrimination against people of colour is now denounced as Racism, and discrimination against women is rejected as Sexism, Animal Rights philosophers propose that using animals for food, clothing or other purposes should be condemned as “Speciesism”. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk famously charged: “There's no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” **
At first glance, this proposal can seem compelling. Just as the idea of extending rights to all races, classes and genders (Human Rights) was once scoffed at, Animal Rights philosophers argue that it is time to extend our moral circle to include all animals. But all social and moral constructs are not created equal. Human Rights is a highly functional “fiction” because human society is clearly strengthened when each member feels that their personal rights and needs are secured. Animal Rights offers no such benefits.
Animal Rights is, in fact, completely out of synch with how the natural world really works. Like it or not, life eats life. Animals only survive by eating other living organisms, plants or other animals. But animals do not usually eat members of their own species. Contrary to the claims of animal rightists, there’s nothing arbitrary or hypocritical about humans eating other animals but not (usually) each other.
The evolutionary logic for not killing members of your own species is evident, especially for humans. If you kill me, my kids come for you, then your kids come for my family, and on it goes – not very conducive to social cooperation or stability. Killing and eating other species provokes no such complications.
Problems with Animal Rights Logic
Most worrisome, the logic of Animal Rights may actually threaten human (and animal) welfare. Activists argue that no one needs real fur anymore because fake fur provides a “cruelty-free” alternative. But fake furs (and most other synthetics) are made from petrochemicals that are not renewable or biodegradable. New research reveals that these materials also leach micro-particles of plastic into our waterways and marine life each time they are washed. Cruelty-free indeed!
By contrast, using fur in a well-regulated fashion is fully compatible with an ecological (i.e., ethical) relationship with nature. Farmed fur animals are fed left-overs from our own food production, the parts of pigs, chickens and fish that we don’t eat and would otherwise clog landfills. Fur farm wastes – manure, soiled straw bedding and carcasses – are composted to produce organic fertilizers, renewing the fertility of the soil and completing the agricultural nutrient cycle. There is no natural farming system that does not include animals.
The production of wild furs is also based on ecological principles: most wildlife species produce more young each year than their habitat can support to adulthood. The sustainable use of this natural surplus is promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other conservation authorities. In fact, many wildlife populations would have to be culled even if we didn’t use fur, e.g., to prevent damage to property (flooding caused by beaver dams), to protect livestock (coyote predation), and to control the spread of dangerous diseases (rabies in overpopulated raccoons).
Living Outside Natural Reality
All this was clear so long as most North Americans still had family on the land who understood the realities of nature. But now, for the first time in human history, most people live in cities. When your food comes from supermarkets, while animals dance and sing on your TV screen, and the live animals you know are surrogate children that sleep in your bed, it is easy to believe the killing of animals is as morally reprehensible as abusing human rights.
Due to our highly developed brains, we all live to a certain extent outside the biological-natural reality. All legislation is a human construct, and different societal “fictions” constantly compete for public acceptance. Animal Rights activists have been very adept at using sensationalist tactics to convey their stories through both traditional and powerful new social media. As PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk says: “We’re complete media sluts; we didn’t invent the game but we learned to play it!” But stories that win mass appeal do not always end well if they are not grounded in reality.
Animal Rights seems to some to represent a more gentle relationship with nature at a time when pollution and the spectre of global warming are exposing the dangers of rampant consumerism. But as this brief analysis suggests, basing public policy on the ideas promoted by Animal Rights advocates can have unexpected consequences. The Nazis’ fascination with Animal Rights will be the subject of a future essay. For now, suffice to say that encouraging the use of petroleum-based synthetics is not the way to protect our planet for future generations. Using natural, renewable, long-lasting and biodegradable materials like fur makes environmental sense. Politicians take note.
* In addition to sustainability and animal welfare, two further requirements for ethical animal use could be proposed: animals should not be killed for frivolous purposes, and most of the animal should be used (no waste). For a fuller discussion, see The Ethics of Fur, TruthAboutFur.
** While the Animal Rights philosophy opposes any use of animals, fur is often seen as an easy target; no city or state is proposing to ban the sale of meat or dairy products. Note, however, that Peter Singer, the intellectual godfather of the Animal Rights movement, wrote in his 1975 landmark book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, that it is hypocritical to criticize fur-wearing while most people are still eating meat, which requires the killing of far greater numbers of animals.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
Conventional wisdom is clear on why, since time immemorial, wolverine fur has been the preferred material for hood trim in… Read More
Conventional wisdom is clear on why, since time immemorial, wolverine fur has been the preferred material for hood trim in the High North. In essence, the thick, dark, oily fur is hydrophobic, which means it repels water, and thus prevents the build-up of frost caused by condensation of the wearer's breath. The only problem is, none of this is true.
While everyone agrees that wolverine fur makes the finest lining for parka hoods in sub-zero conditions, experts still don't have a clear understanding why. But they do know that it's not hydrophobic, it doesn't repel water, and, given the chance, it allows frost to build up just like any other fur.
Before we dispel the myths surrounding wolverine fur, here's some background. Wolverine fur is generally considered too long and the leather too heavy for use as whole coats. Instead, it is revered as trim for hoods by the Indigenous people of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, in preference to the more readily available (and therefore cheaper) wolf and coyote. But it's not entirely about functionality. Sometimes a strip of wolverine fur is placed next to the wearer's face, then surrounded with the long, silvery mane of a wolf, creating the famed "sunburst" ruff. The effectiveness of these ruffs in keeping the wearer warm has been scientifically proven, but they can also be spectacularly beautiful, so they're also worn for show!
So where do the myths about wolverine fur originate? Let's start with that confusing word "hydrophobic". It probably doesn't mean quite what you think it does, or even what your dictionary says.
When we talk of phobias (from the Greek phóbos, meaning "aversion", "fear" or "morbid fear"), we think of being repulsed by something. Hence the word "hydrophobia" was historically used as a synonym for rabies because sufferers often fear water (and liquids in general). From this, scientists came to use the word "hydrophobicity" to describe the behaviour of certain surfaces in the presence of liquids. Then, for whatever reason (laziness, misunderstanding, or lack of a better word?), dictionaries decided to use "repel" in their definitions. The Free Dictionary, for example, defines hydrophobicity as "the property of repelling water rather than absorbing it or dissolving in it."
Strictly speaking though, hydrophobic surfaces don't repel water at all. Two magnets of the same polarity, for example, repel each other, but hydrophobic surfaces don't repel water; they simply don't attract it. So even if wolverine fur were hydrophobic (which, as we'll see, it isn't), it would be wrong to say it repels water.
Many examples of hydrophobic surfaces exist in nature, all highly unattractive to water but not repelling it per se. Perhaps the best-known is the leaf of the lotus flower, after which the "lotus effect" is named. These leaves, and those of other plants like nasturtiums and prickly pears, use hydrophobicity to keep clean. Rain drops gather dirt while the surface architecture minimizes their adhesion to the surface itself. The same phenomenon is seen in the wings of insects like butterflies and dragonflies. Meanwhile, insects that live on water, like water striders, or spend most of their lives under it, achieve hydrophobicity through tiny hairs that make them virtually unwettable. Then there are penguins. One reason penguins excel at swimming is a layer of trapped air that coats them. Aside from providing insulation, this air reduces drag when swimming, and they can release it to accelerate when jumping out of water to land.
So how about the claim that wolverine fur prevents the formation of frost or ice from the wearer's breath? Again, it's a convenient explanation, but not actually true.
Research on the efficacy of fur trim was ramped up during World War II, when thousands of military garments made use of it, notably wolf and coyote. Writing in 1952 for the Journal of Mammalogy, Rollin H. Baker found wolverine out-performed both these furs, but not because frost didn't form on it. On the contrary, it did. It was what the wearer did next that mattered.
On the performance of wolf and coyote, he wrote: "As long as the fur trim can be kept dry, it functions quite well. However, once rime or frost has accumulated on wolf and coyote fur trim it cannot be brushed or shaken off. Therefore, in order to remove the rime, the garment must be warmed to the point where the rime either sublimates or passes through a liquid stage before it is evaporated. When air temperatures are low enough to cause direct freezing of the breath on the fur trim of garments, thawing caused by warm air currents from the body wets the fur. It thus becomes very uncomfortable to the wearer and also loses its ventilating quality."
All of which sounds thoroughly miserable, particularly if that thawed frost turns into the last thing you want on your hood trim: clumps of ice - icicles even - drawing heat away, disrupting air flow, and dragging your hood down with the sheer weight. (For an idea of how bad things can get, just Google "ice beard".)
So how did wolverine fur compare?
"Here is the point of difference between wolverine fur and most other furs," wrote Baker. "Frost or rime actually will form on wolverine fur at sub-zero temperatures, but it can be readily brushed off with a simple flick of the mitten and thus the fur can be kept dry. If the rime is not brushed off, the fur will become wet and uncomfortable, just as other furs do."
In other words, the myth that wolverine fur prevents the build-up of frost is wrong. Frost forms on wolverine fur just like on any other fur. What sets it apart is what Baker called its "frost-shedding quality" - the ease with which it can be brushed off.
So Is It Hydrophobic?
In case you think all this talk of repulsion versus non-attraction, and frost-prevention versus frost-shedding, is splitting hairs, let's now address the elephant in the room. Is wolverine fur hydrophobic or not?
Scientists are extremely interested in hydrophobicity for a whole range of possible applications in things like aircraft, road and power-line maintenance, building construction, energy efficiency in cooling devices, car windshields, and protection of crops. So in 2012 Boris Pavlin, then at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria, subjected wolverine fur to a whole gamut of tests to see why it's so effective at "frost formation suppression".
Pavlin's test for hydrophobicity was simply to photograph the contact angle between droplets of water at various locations on a wolverine hair (see photos above). Clearly, there is no comparison between these images and the lotus leaf we saw earlier, and Pavlin's conclusion was unequivocal: "the surface was NOT hydrophobic" (emphasis not added).
Then How Does Wolverine Fur Work?
Sadly, there is still no clear understanding of why wolverine fur is so effective - or, to be precise, why it's so easy to brush frost off before it becomes a problem. But it seems certain that when an answer is found, it won't point to one factor alone.
One proposal is that wolverine guard hairs are uncommonly smooth, with no tiny barbs to stop frost from falling off. Using a scanning electron microscope, Pavlin confirmed that the middle parts of wolverine guard hairs are indeed smooth. The tips, however, showed a "very interesting pattern" of barbs.
He also tried freezing hair tips and testing for any abnormal surface electrical charge that might influence frost or ice formation, but found none (though he thought this should be revisited with optimal testing equipment). There were also no chemical substances on the hairs' surface. And in one test which seems unrelated to the purpose of his research but may prove useful to someone, he found the tensile strength of wolverine hairs to be remarkable as he could stretch them by more than 20%! But no silver bullet to explain everything.
"Many different strategies contribute to easy frost removal," he concluded, adding that "some questions remain unresolved and should be subject of further research." But he did at least come up with one definitive finding, which he states cryptically as: "A non-hydrophobic surface is superior to other existing approaches - a proof that the most obvious solution doesn't need to be the right one." In short, while it might seem obvious that wolverine fur is hydrophobic, it's not.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
When New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the Garment District, announced a proposal back in March to… Read More
When New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who
represents the Garment District, announced a proposal back in March to ban
future sales of fur in the city, many viewed it as another case of politicians
blindly following a trend. After all, the animal rights industry has made a
national business out of vilifying the animal consumption world - regardless of
what’s fact or fiction.
But what animal rights activists and political sponsors assumed would be an easy steam-roll over “rich white women” and “redneck trappers and farmers” who support fur usage, has proven shakier than imagined. Perhaps the large majority of Americans who recognize the regulated usage of animal by-products as both sustainable and practical, wasn’t quite anticipated.
We sure do live in interesting times in American culture! If I sound punchier than usual, it's with good reason.
When the public just won’t pay attention to self-righteous anti-fur diatribes, it's become a national trend to politically force legal bans upon the masses of your fellow citizenry instead.
It doesn’t take a business strategist to see what’s going on. Clearly, in the eyes of the animal rights industry, the “east coast” was in need of a dust-up with some good ol’ frivolous (and completely egregious) hunting and garment restrictions. Hopes were quickly imposed to ensure New York City becomes the next “fur-free” urban mecca.
The only difference from the antics playing out on the west coast: the Big Apple isn’t going down without swingin’… hard!
According to trade group FurNYC, the city still has the largest retail fur market in the country, stating the 150 remaining fur businesses in New York create 1,100 jobs and produce $400 million in revenue per year.
And it's not just backwoods fur trappers supporting the industry. As the NYC fur ban really started to heat up this May, folks from all walks of American life came out to fight the proposal.
African-American and Jewish faith leaders added to the
protests in opposition, stating that the ban discriminates against their
cultural heritage. Outspoken immigrants weighed in regarding the potential loss
of skills and careers. Celebrities jumped into the mix to criticize government
who thinks it can tell its people how to dress. Anyone who recognized fur as a
sustainable material made sure to join the vocal movement against the ban.
"People feel complete when they put on something that they worked hard for, they have sacrificed for," said the Rev. Phil Craig, who was among 75 clergy and other advocates who turned out at one protest against the ban.
Apparently, the pushback from a ban on fur in NYC was more
than the city’s politicians expected.
“Maybe I should have thought more about this before I introduced it because I didn’t realize the amount of pushback there would be,” Johnson told reporters at City Hall. “I was actually moved by some of the furriers and their testimony,” he said.
Animal rights proponents, on the other hand, still desperately contend the usage of fur is trending downward. (All the more reason to force a ban I guess, right? These folks clearly aren’t famous for their rationale.)
On the contrary, a national locavore movement seems to be fueling a revival in sustainable materials, like fur, which is probably why industry leaders like PETA and the Humane Society of the US are scrambling to support restrictions on fur usage and regulated hunting of fur across the country.
In the case of wild fur especially, the regulated seasonal trapping and usage of fur pelts from abundant wild species such as raccoons, skunks, and beaver is nationally considered wise use of resources that are otherwise destined for the landfill when they’re struck by vehicles, lose habitat due to urbanization, succumb to disease, or cause conflict for landowners and municipalities.
Environmental and wildlife management aspects aside, an underlying theme heard from citizens in the NYC fur ban debates is clear - freedom of choice.
The “my closet, my choice” meme seems to be resonating with a growing sector of the American population that has grown tired of hollow protests and frivolous government bans.
It appears as though the “freedom of choice crowd” carries the bigger stick - at least for the moment.
While some people are certainly foaming at the mouth to drive another nail in the coffin of rural culture, many more are lighting their torches and wielding their pitchforks against fur-supporters based on hearsay rather than tangible information.
“All-knowing” celebrities like fashion designer Tim Gunn have been outspoken supporters of the fur ban. Gunn told reporters that “Foxes, rabbits, chinchillas and even dogs and cats are anally electrocuted, gassed, bludgeoned and often skinned alive.”
Even Speaker Johnson, in explaining to reporters why he proposed the ban, said he “really just did it because I felt like it was the right thing to do in my heart.”
Apparently Johnson and Gunn, and also PETA representative Dan Matthews who echoed similar statements, did not do their homework before pushing for a city-wide ban. They also haven't been paying attention to the news lately.
In March, two Chinese workers came forward stating they’d been paid by animal rights activists to skin a dog alive on video. That video, which has been circulated around the internet, is the only crutch the animal rights industry has been able to rely upon for the out-of-left-field (and inherently false) statement that licensed trappers and fur farmers “skin animals alive for their fur”.
Of course, licensed fur trappers and fur farmers know full
well skinning animals alive isn’t part of the pelting process - but who asked
them, right? Not the mainstream media, not the government officials imposing
these bans from city to city, and certainly not the anti-hunting/anti-fur
While some may argue that fur pelts aren’t “needed” in the modern age, some could also argue that the detractions against regulated fur usage are also in dire need of some evolutionary creativity.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreements in opinion, the usage of animal byproducts, or even wildlife management fundamentals. A disagreement however, is far from shoving cult-like laws and legal bans down the throats of the American people.
No Such Thing As Bad Publicity
For the animal rights industry, I suspect the battles over
fur bans from coast to coast (and coat to coat) present themselves as a win/win
Even if the NYC fur ban caves to the pressure of citizens’ right to choose, the animal rights organizations spearheading the ban still walk away with profitable notoriety as a byproduct of their latest PR stunt.
Which is why, despite the lunacy of strong-arming a ban on the usage of a natural resource, the organizations, celebrities, and politicians involved in perpetuating the NYC fur ban will continue the circus act from city to city, state to state, country to country, and, inevitably, closet to closet.
Let's be real, if anyone supporting a ban on fur garments actually cared about animal welfare, they’d do their due diligence by researching all aspects of the debate, rather than selfishly hiding behind a protest sign or online petition. But alas, ignorance breeds ignorance; and a false sense of “moral superiority” just breeds more lackluster grandstanding - an obvious hot commodity surrounding the topic.
Perhaps it's time the (already heavily regulated) hunting, trapping, and fur-garment communities take a page out of the animal rights industry playbook and soak up a slice of the publicity pie themselves.
At the end of the day, groups like PETA don’t care if they
win or lose another media-fueled public cage match - I’m talking about them
aren’t I? And that’s what ultimately sells - whether the facts lean in favor of
their views or not.
Supporters of the regulated usage of natural fur materials would be hard-pressed to find a better microphone than the one they’ve been forced to fight against in New York City - and it's time for those invested parties to take full advantage of this circus while it's still in town!
Suffice to say, the animal activism industry has a PR problem: the men and women protesting the NYC ban on fur aren’t your run-of-the-mill rural fur trappers and mink farmers the American public has been conditioned to demonize. Collectively, the folks most outraged over the proposed fur ban represent a cross-section of modern America - all creeds, all races, all classes, all political affiliations.
Sometimes, a government-backed “ban” on a particular material or chemical makes sense to protect the health of its citizens (or the natural resources we all cherish and have been tasked with conserving). The NYC fur ban, clearly, is not one of those instances.
A ban on clothing choice? Especially from a material that is regulated, and has proven no modern negative impact on our environment (while the alternative product has proven to cause environmental harm) - well now, we all know that’s just silly.
At the end of the day, whether NYC moves forward with its ban on fur or not, one thing has been made painfully clear: the animal rights industry can’t claim the “moral majority” any longer.
Progressive politicians in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York City are trying to ban the sale of fur… Read More
Progressive politicians in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York City are trying to ban the sale of fur in their jurisdictions, claiming furbearers die for products we no longer need. New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has proposed a ban "because I felt like it was the right thing to do in my heart." But is it the right thing to do?
“Progressives” pride themselves on supporting government action to promote social justice, equality, and, increasingly, protection of our natural environment. But the modern fur trade embodies many of the principles that progressive politicians claim to support.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why progressive politicians should be promoting fur, not seeking to ban it.
1. Fur Products Are Handmade by Skilled Artisans
In this age of industrialized mass-production, fur apparel and accessories are still cut and sewn by skilled artisans. These people maintain remarkable craft skills passed down from parents to their children through generations.
Because of the high value of the raw materials and the specialized skills required, fur products have never been made in the sweatshops that continue to plague parts of the apparel industry. Fur garments are one of the few things we buy that are still made individually, by hand. In fact, each fur piece is really wearable art, often involving 30 hours or more of skilled work to produce.
This remarkable heritage industry should be valued and protected by everyone who appreciates the cultural and human value of craft traditions.
More than half of the fur produced in the US (closer to 80% worldwide) is now produced on family-run farms. Fur farms are viable in regions where poor soil or harsh weather make other forms of farming difficult, and provide much-needed employment and income in many rural communities.
Industry standards (now being certified by third-party auditors) ensure that farmed mink receive excellent nutrition and care, in part because there is no other way to produce the high-quality fur for which North America is known. Farmed mink are fed left-overs from human food production - the parts of chickens, pigs and fish that we don’t eat, that otherwise might clog landfills. Mink manure, straw bedding and carcasses are composted to provide organic fertilizers to replenish the soil, completing the agricultural nutrient cycle.
Support for rural communities and sustainable agriculture are two important contributions of fur farming that progressive politicians should embrace, not scapegoat.
3. Trappers Maintain Land-Based Knowledge and Lifestyles
Trappers are, in a sense, the last of the Mohicans. They are among the last people on Earth who maintain the hunter/gatherer skills and knowledge that ensured human survival for 99% of our existence as a species. They are among the few who go into nature alone, continually studying animals and their environment.
We all care about nature, but most of us now live in cities; it is trappers who sound the alarm when wildlife and their habitat are threatened by poorly-planned industrial activity. Trappers report eagle nests so loggers can avoid disturbing them. Like canaries in the mine, changing fur harvests can signal problems like mercury pollution harming mink reproduction.
We would need trappers even if we didn’t use fur. Regulated trapping protects land from flooding by over-populated beavers. It also protects human health (e.g., from rabies spread by over-populated raccoons) and livestock (e.g., from predation by coyotes) and endangered species (e.g., sea turtle eggs from foxes, raccoons and coyotes); and the list goes on.
Trapping in North America is strictly regulated by state, provincial and territorial governments to ensure that only abundant furs are taken and that the most humane trapping methods are used.
Especially in Canada, trapping also provides food and income for many First Nations communities.
Protectors of our land-based heritage and our natural environment, trappers should be recognized as true guardians of nature. The furs they produce should be respected and treasured by progressives. They should be purchased and worn with pride to support these unique lifestyles - not boycotted.
4. Fur Is Sustainable, Durable, Recyclable and Biodegradable
The massive over-production of inexpensive but poor-quality clothing is becoming a serious environmental problem. “Fast fashion” unfortunately also means “fast disposal” of increasing quantities of clothing that is only worn briefly. And as much as 80% of it is made of petrochemical-based synthetics, basically another form of plastic bags.
In landfills, synthetics do not biodegrade like fur and other natural fibres. And each time they are washed, they leach millions of plastic micro-fibres into our waterways that are now turning up in marine life - including species we eat, like oysters - and even in our drinking water.
It is becoming clear that the only sustainable solution to this clothing crisis is to buy less of it, while ensuring the items we do buy are better quality and last longer with proper care. This sustainable future will include fur. Good-quality mink and other fur garments are often worn for 30 or more years, and unlike most clothing, can be taken apart and completely “remodelled” as fashions change. Fur is often passed down from mother to daughter, or granddaughter. Old furs can also be made into vests, pillows or other accessories.
And after many decades of use, fur can be tossed into the compost to return to the soil. Once again, we see that fur should be appreciated and promoted by environmentally-conscious progressive politicians, not banned!
Progressive politicians who are sincere about wanting to promote social justice, craft traditions, rural communities, and protection of our natural environment, should be asking how they can better protect and promote fur and our remarkable North American heritage industry. They certainly should not be seeking to ban it.
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Sharon Firth and her late twin sister, Shirley, are legends in Canada for their feats as cross-country skiers. Their lives… Read More
Sharon Firth and her late twin sister, Shirley, are legends in Canada for their feats as cross-country skiers. Their lives were rooted in living off the land, and today Sharon champions the cause of bringing natural fur back to Canada's Olympic uniform, not seen since their first games in 1972. Image: Canada Post.
Gliding stride-by-stride across the frozen ice and snow of the Northwest Territories. The sting of frigid -30°C air filling your lungs with each gasp as you ski on, mile after mile. Your legs and arms burning like fire as you push yourself. Just you, alone, fighting against the pain of fatigue, battling a darkened winter sky and the elements of nature.
It’s not something everyone can do or even imagine. But it’s exactly here that Sharon Anne Firth found her calling. It’s where she traces her life, from a child on the trapline with her family, to Olympic glory around the world, and now, all the way back again. All the way back home.
Sharon Anne and her twin sister, the late Shirley Firth, also an Olympic cross-country skiing legend, were born two minutes apart in Aklavik in the Northwest Territories, on the last day of 1953. They were two of 13 brothers and sisters.
Sharon Anne is Gwich'in, a group of Dené indigenous people that have lived in the Arctic from Alaska to the Northwest Territories since time immemorial.
Considered the hub of the McKenzie Delta, Aklavik had it all at the time: about 800 residents, along with a hospital, post office, radio station, and of course a Hudson's Bay Company store. But in 1959, with fears growing that the town was sinking into the river, many residents were shipped off to nearby Inuvik, including the Firths.
The demise of Aklavik, as it turned out, was greatly exaggerated. While government was busy pushing people out of the town, a committee led by A.J. “Moose” Kerr fought back against the relocation. And in the end, the town was saved. In more ways than one.
“Today the motto for the town is ‘never say die,’ which makes a lot of sense,” Sharon Anne says laughing.
Love for Nature, Skiing
The Firth family lived a traditional lifestyle including fish from the river and lakes, the wood and stone materials around them, wild game from the forests and tundra, and furs from the trapline.
But the people of the north don’t just want to survive, they seek to thrive. And so it was that in 1967 teenagers Sharon Anne and Shirley had their date with destiny. While in a residential school that brought in children from upwards of 63 communities, they were introduced to cross-country skiing.
The person who introduced them to the sport was none other than Norwegian skiing legend Bjorger Pettersen, who was running clinics in the north with a view to identifying possible talent and growing the sport nationally.
Sharon Anne and Shirley were naturals.
“As soon as we put on the skis we immediately fell in love,” Sharon Anne says. “The McKenzie Delta was really full of raw talent for things like snowshoeing and skiing. We are an endurance people, we love the long distances and we love being outside in all sorts of conditions. It’s who we are. It’s in our genes and our lifestyles.”
Pettersen certainly recognized the raw talent in his midst and the Firths, along with some other local athletes, were asked to enter into serious training. Sharon Anne recalls that they had to get permission from their parents first before committing. That permission was granted and the training began immediately with some, well, unusual challenges.
“Coaches would put the training program on the wall each day and we would be running across the tundra to train,” she recalls. “We would run for hours, and of course, before we began, they reminded us that there was no berry-picking while we were out training!”
Off to the Games
The training, combined with the talent, paid off. And
After first laying eyes on skis in 1967, just five years later, Shirley and Sharon Anne, then just 18 years old, were faced with a prospect almost too big to fathom: competing at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.
But even then, things would not come easy for the twins.
Shirley fell ill and landed in hospital. Her illness was such that she was told she should not only forget about making it to the Olympics, but about competitive skiing altogether. But when you come from a town whose mantra is “never say die”, you don’t throw down the skis and quit.
“I visited her every day in hospital after I was done training, and the more I went to see her, the better she got. She was very strong-willed. She decided she was going to get out of the hospital, get back on her skis and fight to make the Olympics - and that’s exactly what she did. And so we both went to Japan,” Sharon Anne recalls proudly.
The Firths were the first Indigenous women to wear the Maple Leaf and represent Canada at the Winter Olympics. There was a huge sense of pride and accomplishment, but also pressure.
“Shirley and I pushed ourselves, we fought hard, and trained like you would not believe,” Sharon Anne says. “We were representing ourselves and our country, but also Indigenous peoples. We had gone from the trapline all the way to the Olympics. This wasn’t just about us and sports and competition. We were athletes and role models, and we knew it.
Having real fur on our Canadian Olympic uniform, it was a sense of pride and also made us feel connected to our home even though we were halfway around the world.
“It was a powerful feeling in the starting gate,” Sharon Anne says, recalling there was one thing that gave her strength as she prepared to step into the games: fur.
“Having real fur on our Canadian Olympic uniform, it was a sense of pride and also made us feel connected to our home even though we were halfway around the world.”
In all, Sharon Anne would represent her country and her people at several national and world championship skiing events, and at four different Winter Olympics: Sapporo 1972, Innsbruck 1976, Lake Placid 1980 and Sarajevo 1984.
She retired in 1985 and faced a question many elite athletes do after years of structure and training and planning, and strictly regimented living: now what?
For Sharon Anne, the answer was simple. She would go home.
Back to the Northwest Territories
“I knew I had to go back to the Northwest Territories,” she
says. “I was raised on the trapline and on the land; it was what I knew, what I
loved. Hunting, fishing and trapping and living a life in nature, with nature.”
She moved back to her home territory and settled in the capital, Yellowknife. Her first job was at Expo 86 in Vancouver, working with young people relaying to them the amazing life she had led. In the years that followed, she worked for the government, and the honours and accolades worthy of a trailblazing athlete of her stature have flowed appropriately.
She is a member of the Order of Canada, and more recently, the Order of the Northwest Territories. She is a member of the Canadian Museum Ski Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Banff Sports Hall of Fame, and NWT Sports Hall of Fame. She has received the Queen’s Golden and Silver Jubilee Awards, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta, and has been named an Adjunct Professor University of Alberta, School of Public Health.
Recently Sharon Anne and Shirley were immortalized when they were added to the Women in Winter Sports stamp series from Canada Post that includes themselves along with other sporting legends Nancy Greene, Danielle Goyette, Clara Hughes and Sonja Gaudet.
Champion for Natural Fur
And now you can add a new title to Sharon Anne’s lengthy résumé: a champion for natural, sustainable fur.
As a person who has lived from the land for a great part of her life, and who understands the positive impact of natural fur in rural and Indigenous communities, she has a new mission: to give Olympic athletes a choice to be able to wear fur at the Winter Games just like she did.
“Natural fur is my passion,” she says. “I was raised on the
land, we always had the very best of things from the land including our furs.
People in the south go to the mall or grocery store to get what they need, we go
to the land or the trapline.”
She says fur is part of the Canadian cultural fabric, but
also part of the ecological landscape.
“As a people we understand management and balance in nature,
we never take more than is needed, and we use whatever nature gives us. It’s
pure and natural,” she says. “Hunting, fishing and trapping unites us all
across this country, it always has.”
Fur is Canada ... I’d like to see athletes be able to wear natural fur at the Olympic Games, to feel the connection to their culture and country the way I did.
And for a young teenager, standing in the starting gate at her first Olympics in a country she had only ever read about, fur was something else. It was part of the theme that has permeated Sharon Anne's life.
Fur was, in a way, home.
“Fur is Canada,” she says. “So yes, I would like to see athletes have a chance to experience what I had as an Olympian. I’d like to see Canadian athletes be able to wear natural fur at the Olympic Games, to feel the connection to their culture and country the way I did.”
"Never Give Up"
Shirley Firth, meanwhile, got married in 1984 and lived in France for many years. But she too stayed connected with her home as she worked with universities and Canadian Embassies in Europe promoting the Northwest Territories and its people.
Sadly, Shirley’s life, though so full and amazing, was cut far too short. She passed away in April 2013.
But Sharon Anne's connection to her twin sister has never faded. “She is always with me,” she says. “She is always reminding me to never quit, never give up.”
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