It’s January, the start of the new year, and the time that marks the beginning of prime pelt season for Cree trappers. Cree beaver has always been in a class by itself, respected and known throughout the fur world for its quality.

I remember many a time listening to the tallymen talking for our benefit about the techniques and right time for the right pelt; sitting in a tent sipping on the tea that was always there—a deep earthy black and strong tea that was like the men who in soft words described to us what life was. Men, who in minus-40-degree temperatures would calmly plunge a single arm into the deep cold water to check to see if an animal offered itself.

Often they would talk of the hard times, of the hunger and starvation they endured in the past. “You must respect the spirit of the animals and what they have given you. They have given their lives so the Cree people can survive. They love us that much. You must return that love and respect.” This was a lesson I never forgot.

That and other teachings I brought down south with me as part of my being. They helped many times when I was alone as a representative fighting for our right to be heard.

I always remembered the tone of voice our elders used when teaching. It helped to strengthen and calm my voice when I felt like shouting in anger—the anger I felt when fighting against the anti-fur movement.

Once, a young man said, “We [the whiteman] started the fur trade and we can end it.” This ignored the fact that, as native people, we traded long before any European people landed on the shores of our continent. The animal-rights activists said most of the fur was fur farm pelts and little benefit goes to native trappers, while ignoring the statistics of unemployment and poverty on reserves. In short, they were affecting our economy and our culture without any thought to the consequences. As a native, I know the consequences well, as do many Inuit people. Greenpeace, in its efforts to eliminate the seal hunt in the Atlantic provinces, destroyed the entire seal-pelt trade. This had devastating impacts on the economies of the Inuit peoples as well as on the environment.

I know that we Crees have never made a animal extinct and that our use of the land prevents the loss of habitat. Loss of habitat is the greatest single factor in loss of wildlife. I therefore ask that the anti-fur movement combine logic with emotion in its actions. Your concern for the other inhabitants of this planet is commendable. As human beings, we all share a concern about the welfare of all this planet’s inhabitants. From a different viewpoint you have finally realized what the Cree have always known: that the relationship between “man” and “animal” is one of mutual obligation. Let us respect each other’s viewpoints and let us live as one with the earth. Human beings are not superior to the ecosystem but are a part of it whether we like or not. As intelligent “animals,” let us understand that and act accordingly.