I Believe in Fur

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As a Northerner, I am rarely surprised by any of the things that might surprise southerners, but I was with my mother last weekend in Fairbanks Alaska… and she’s from “outside”.   We watched the GCI Open North American Championship Dog Sled Races… my mom was so excited, snapping picture after picture. I live in the Yukon, so dogsled races are an annual event. The Yukon Quest is our annual event…a 1,000 mile sled dog race run each February between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Dog teams are really cool, but not once-in-a-lifetime cool.

What really captured my attention was the Alaska Trappers Association’s outdoor Fur Auction. Wow. Row after row of pelts, some tanned and some ready to be tanned. I found it fascinating; exciting. My mother found it repulsive, upsetting, anachronistic. There were wolf, Arctic fox, red fox, wolverine, ermine, weasel, coyote, lynx, beaver, squirrel, caribou, even a few bear. Although the sale of bear skins is illegal in Alaska, bears killed by conservation officers are skinned and their pelts are sold each year at this event.   The Trappers Association acts as a wholesaler working on behalf of Alaskans with traplines up and down the state, offering hundreds of furs to people like me as well as artists and those bidding on contract for retail, for designers, etc. I have never seen anything like it.

The furs were beautiful. Stunning. Heartbreaking, yes, but the sight of them reinforced a connection to the land that’s rapidly disappearing from our modern culture. It was amazing to watch the auctioneer and bidders carrying on much as I imagine they did 50 or 75 years ago, making good on a season of effort and keeping traditional trade relationships going. As a society, we don’t hold much stock in fur these days. In the North, that’s not really true. In the North we respect fur; we know it can keep us alive in winter, it can keep us warm and we know the fur trapping and trading industry can sustain families and communities.

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Before you get outraged I want you to consider a few things. I won’t go all “circle of life” on you, but I have spent a fair bit of time the last few days thinking this through in my own head. I know that fur is no longer necessary for us to stay warm or to survive winter. I know we can buy Goretex, we can wear down, we can use other, more modern technologies.

But think about this; down comes from animals. The down industry is a bit cowboy; some countries have good, ethical harvesting practices while others don’t. Some of the down sold in Canada  “is a by-product of the waterfowl meat industry.” But 80% of the world’s down comes from China, where rules are … well,  you know, not really rules at all.  Live plucking, an abhorrent practice does take place in many producing countries including China and some European suppliers of down. A Swedish news program called “Kalla Fakta” (“Cold Facts”) claimed in 2009 that between 50% and 80% of the world’s down came from live plucked birds; that’s a shameful and deeply upsetting statistic. While many countries have scrambled to refute those statistics, the numbers certainly remain higher than most of us could comfortably live with.

Artificial down (poly this or that) comes from a complex manufacturing process that sucks up resources and spits out chemicals and effluent; petroleum based down alternatives are really just another big fat question mark environmentally. How about shearling? Well, you know no sheep is going to survive very long without its skin and wool, so that’s just fur; the ubiquitous uggs are just fur too, for that matter.

The thing is this; you’ve got to stay warm. This is Canada, and it’s winter, and it’s damned cold. You have a myriad of options that cover the gamut from oil by-product down alternatives inside of a nylon shell to wild trapped fur. You can come down on the side of anti-cruelty and choose either polar opposite of the equation; is harvesting an animal after a life lived fully in nature less humane than wearing a nylon parka stuffed with petroleum based down alternative? What is the larger impact? Proper animal husbandry and humane harvesting practices allow the responsible use of a renewable resource. If we want to be honest with ourselves, we’ll consider that commercial meat production in Canada is unspeakably cruel to the animals harvested; pigs held in pens with no room to turn around, chickens are kept eternally in the dark and in tiny cages. You can’t argue that trapping is inhumane while you eat a burger with a clean conscience.  If you buy your meat neatly wrapped in plastic at Loblaw or Walmart or Superstore – or any other major food chain, you are part of the consumptive cycle – you are part of the industry raising animals for human slaughter and use. For the record, so am I. I am a meat eater and am equally a part of the problem.

I don’t agree with inhumane trapping methods, and by that I refer to leg hold traps. I don’t know enough about how traplines are run to suggest I have any real idea of the process and methods but I believe this with all my heart; it must be a better life for an animal to run, free and wild until death than to be held captive until an appropriately marketable weight is achieved before slaughter.  Responsible harvest of wild animals for use in the creation of garments designed to keep us safe and warm in extreme weather…that I can live with. Not without second thought, but I can accept it.

I don’t think I could make this argument if I lived in Los Angeles or Vancouver, but in the north… the REAL north, yes. Fur makes sense to me.  What do you think?

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “I Believe in Fur

    • If you are a vegan then I will accept your point of view as honest and call no foul. 🙂 I don’t believe in animal abuse or exploitation, and my view on fur surprises me in a way. I am very clear in my views on gun control or registration, have angered many who believe in unfettered access to firearms etc. but I do believe in the context of the climate north of the 60th parallel that fur is a sensible solution, and that the alternatives are not clearly better for the earth or the environment.

    • Totally agree with you girl for animal liberation. Thank you for being the voice of the defenseless.
      And yes I am vegan, but in the fur industry animals suffer solely for their skins. Only depraved people wear fur nowadays.

  1. I think you cover all the points Deb and your point of view is absolutely valid. Like you said, unless you live there you have a totally different perspective on how things are, people from the city don’t get the reality of it or understand the way of life and how it has been for thousands of years. Well written 🙂

  2. It really is, and there are so many different perspectives to see it from all of which have huge emotion involved. It is so true that many substitutes for fur are equally as bad if not worse than actually using fur! It makes me sad how little we value life on so many fronts. If you research back in time, nothing was ever killed that wasn’t utilized to it’s full potential, the Indigenous people never killed anything unless they were going to use it to stay alive. AND they always gave thanks back to the spirit world. We could certainly learn a lot if we lived to the high standards they did and still do and actually THOUGHT about what we were doing to make that happen.

    • What is interesting to me is how easily we can convince ourselves that new and improved, or “alternative” or man-made is automatically a better solution. We overlook the impacts of these products while we decry the harvest of animals. If we truly believe in the connectivity of life on the planet and recognize that we are animals too then I think it changes the perspective. If we are harvesting animals to use for our own survival then it makes sense. That is not to suggest I think we have carte blanche to exploit and abuse, to use animals for wasteful, vain and purely decorative purposes but it does mean, to me, that we can use fur. I know many who will disagree.

  3. Absolutely, and again it is in the perspective, we are blind to what we don’t want to see when we either don’t have all the information available or our mindset has been battered over and over again what others think is right and wrong. So much of what is going on in today’s society is not what it seems to be, we hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see and ignore anything else. Monsanto is a prime example of that, they are only giving half of the story and people don’t think they need to delve into it any further than that. Scary stuff.

  4. Elaine Middleton says:

    “My mother found it repulsive, upsetting, anachronistic” This is rather an overstatement of what I actually said. My words were “When I saw all those furs hanging there, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.” I did not conciously put that feeling in my stomach, uninvited, unaticipated and a surprise to me. I also said, that I was not judging the fur people, but would feel more comfortable if the furs were to be used for keeping people warm, or to also provide food for someone, and not to just hang on the wall as a trophy. Then asked if you knew if it was still legal in the north to use leg hold traps.
    I also said that I knew that the people of the north would likely have valid reasons and again, it was not my place to judge.
    To me this is not so complex and emotional issue as respecting each person human right to his or her own opinion. I respect yours.
    PS. I will have to look up the meaning of the word, ” anachronistic” in order to know its precise meaning.

    Love,
    Mom.

    • Anachronistic means “out of time”, or something that is obsolete or out of date. You mentioned in this day and age. There was nothing negative whatever in my comments about what you said. There was no judgement in my reflection of your very valid opinion, to which you are absolutely entitled. I did research the question about leg hold traps and have found that yes, they are still legal in Alaska. I share your distaste for that trapping method and for those who employ it.

    • Interesting that you have determined, from where you are, that I have no compassion. I don’t know where you read that and I won’t argue the point with you. Coming to a conclusion based on what I see as the facts does not mean I have no compassion. Making such a profound judgement about someone from a single post on a blog is just silly but I thank you for commenting and for reading. We were discussing an issue, and my point of view is just that, my point of view. I see by your blog that your view is strongly anti-fur; I admire your conviction. Have a nice day.

  5. em says:

    A word to the Inuit woman who sent Ellen a reply re seal hunting. I did not see or hear Ellen’s comments re this issue. She may have been referring to the massive seal hunts seen on national TV where we see hundreds of baby seals, stripped of their fur, laying bleeding and dying or dead and deserted on the snow in Atlantic Canada. It would seem that those seal are killed only for their fur and fashion. If the meat were to be eaten, likely the remains would not be left lying there but harvested as well. Some of the newscasts I have seen on this issue show no indigenous people, just Atlantic people making a living on seal hunting. Selling the furs and abandoning the meat on the ice and snow.
    However, we do not always get the whole or accurate story from the national news, as you may well know.
    In regards to the Inuit way of life, hooray for you young lady.

    Traditional seal hunting results in food for the northern hunter and family, as well as to keep them warm. My point exactly. Good for you young lady. Your message is well spoken and sincere.

    I live in Canada’s south and the indigenous way seems most logical to me. Keep speaking up for the way of life for your people. Those of us ‘down south’ are far removed from your environment and it is good to be reminded of the way of the northern folk from time to time.
    cheers

  6. I seriously doubt only “depraved” people buy fur these days. I myself buy leather goods because they generally last longer. I also buy faux leather for pieces I don’t expect to have for a long time. As you stated the production of genuine leather and man made products can both be harmful to the environment.

    I respect vegans’ decision and where it comes from. I could say their views are silly or uninformed but I don’t. My decision to wear leather goods and eat animal meat are not born out of malice or “depravity.” Everyone’s opinion is valid, but the minute someone throws out ad hominem remarks in debate, I lose interest in anything else they have to say. Keep your (in general) comments respectful, and who knows, you may turn me to your side.

    This is such a well-written post. I just discovered your blog, and I can’t wait to read more!

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