Saturday, 8 March 2014

Blame Farley Mowat

Okay, so two days after I said I'm taking a break from the computer, I'm back. It's because I read a really good book by Farley Mowat called High Latitudes, and it got me thinking. And when I think, my fingers automatically reach for the nearest keyboard.

The book was written in 2002 but it's about his travels through the Arctic in 1966, visiting various Inuit communities and recording what the people thought and felt about how things were going in their world. And time and time again, the conclusion was the same: they wanted to work, they wanted to better their circumstances and provide for their families, they wanted to be left in peace, but white men wouldn't let them. White men exploited their resources until it was impossible to hunt or fish anymore to support their families. White men moved them from place to place, broke promises, broke up the culture, devestated their ecology, took their children, all under the guise of "helping" them and bringing them into the white men's world. Only they weren't brought in, they were left abandoned and floating around the edges, unable to participate fully but unable to go back to the life they had known and enjoyed.

It was a horrifying little book, really, when you stop to consider the impact of the things Mowat related. Families displaced and broken up, connections to each other and to the land broken irreparably, language stolen, way of life disintegrated. The people he interviewed said they no longer knew who they were or how they fit into the world. Parts of it made me want to weep. Things went on in the Arctic that rival the worst tales of genocide and cruelty going on elsewhere in the world today. We just don't hear about it in depth because it's remote, involving a relatively small and quiet population. Textbooks tend to gloss over it in the name of progress, dwelling only on the explorations and extraction of resources and military might and high adventure, and not mentioning the loss of life and livelihood, the trash left behind, the fragile places ruined. Certainly the true extent of the destruction isn't taught in our schools.

No one can possibly make this right, give back their dead, reconnect their families, restore their happiness and their culture. And no one can fix the devastation of the environment. Some steps have been taken and some gestures made, but once sorrow of that kind has been experienced, the memory of it can't be erased. The saddest thing is that we haven't learned, as a people, as a species. We continue to hurt and destroy, all the while thinking that we know best. I heard a quote once somewhere that said something like "Other people's cultures aren't failed attempts to be you." I look at the Crimea, at the Sudan, at Somalia, at...geez, pick just about any continent...and it's all about one person taking something for himself no matter what it costs someone else to get it. We're spinning through the giant universe on this tiny lump of a planet, arguing over microscopic specks of dirt. The longer I live, the more I think Dr. Seuss was a genius. His Yertle the Turtle was bang on.

I watched a TV show the other night about a twenty-something chap in a kilt who left society behind and now lives as a forager in the pacific rainforest, completely off the land. He has entirely divorced himself from "civilization." And I totally understand. There are times I want to join him. And yet there are other times I think it's worth hanging in there, to see if I can have any impact and help even in a small way to change the broken world around me. Flee or fight? I'm balancing on the fine line between them.

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