Tuesday, 31 May 2011

"bad faith" in Inuit-government relations

I was listening to the CBC morning show called, Qulliq, this morning where a person from Arctic Bay was talking about the Inuit hunters' frustration with Inuit-scientific research relations. The problem is not so much with the researchers (who become known as persons by Inuit through their long interactions with them) or even the scientific methods but government bureaucratic "agendas" that are perceived, with good cause, to predetermine the outcomes of these "negotiations" that decide on total allowable harvest rates.

The problems arise from using old data of population counts (sometimes more than a decade old) or the use of bureaucratese and other weasle words to speak from a script without saying anything actionable. There is also the shifting policies and regulations.

I was listening at a public meeting regarding polar bears where a hunter said that, after catching two bears in the late 1960s, he was visited by an RCMP Officer and told that he wasn't allowed to catch more than one per season. Through a slight of hand, and perhaps because it was a good day for him, the RCMP decided he wouldn't charge the hunter if his father would claim the other bear. Though being charged would have been bad for the hunter, he was reluctant to "lie" at first and felt forced to lie to appease an arbitrary rule.

The point the hunter was making is: disingenuity and double-heartedness always results from arbitrary government "agendas" where the scientist and the hunter are hamstrung by bad faith though often they know better because one is there everday and the other (if he or she is half-way decent) knows there is always an element of uncertainty and trust is not a dirty word.

I know of no Inuit hunter who would abuse their privilege to hunt because hunting and prey animals are his/her practical religion and way of life; hunting is sacred. Being mean and abusive towards animals is taboo not to be violated.

The element of darkness and evil is possibly introduced by the commodification of prey animals, and something I've always been cognisant of and totally uncomfortable with. But I am not a hunter, and feel I have no right to speak out against my fellow Inuit. They have to make a living. And more power to them. I'm most sincere here. I know that sport hunts bring in much-needed revenue not only for the outfitters but their families, the community and the local Hunters&Trappers' Associations. So, the money is very important.

But the insidious nature of commodification and economic interests is that reasonable alternatives become almost impossible to countenance (as big oil and drug- trade/war has proven time and again). I know that alternatives to sports hunts surely exist but sports hunts bring in more money than eco-tourism. Once tasted, big money becomes difficult, damned near impossible, to wean off from.

We, as Inuit, have not had the opportunity to discourse on these issues amongst ourselves without interference and influence peddling from the outside. Becoming beholden to economic interests is already a fact. I don't see how a reasonable discourse would be possible now.

There is something of a disjointed- and contradicted-ness not only with prey animals but also with traditionally-made clothing: it is now rare to see Inuit wearing kamiks and parkas. They've become too expensive and lucrative for Inuit themselves to wear and only the wealthy Inuit and non-Inuit seem to be able to afford to wear them.

For my Inuit audience, I've not said anything against my fellow-Inuit but rather expressing my concerns about inadvertent degradation of our culture by stepping onto the slippery slope of economic interests. I love my culture and want naturally to protect it as much as is possible.

For my non-Inuit audience, I leave this blog with an excerpt, a dialogue from a movie called, Fair Game, to illustrate the inescapable logic of sophism that often do away with critical thought through intimidation and appeal to loyalties:

- (Scooter listens patiently to PAUL, the chief analyst.)

PAUL: And so apart from all the scepticism surrounding the specification, the analysis from the IAEA which I believe is numbered in the report…

- (Stops. Changes tack)

Mr Libby. Energy department nuclear scientists are among the most boring people on the planet. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years someone comes along and says "so, tell me about gas centrifuges". That's literally the only time you should listen to these guys. If they say an aluminium tube is not for a gas centrifuge it's like a fish talking about water. We've been over this data with you now five, six times. And... We don't really know how you want us to play this…

- (Libby listens. He nods. Waits.)

LIBBY: Let me level with you here, Paul. I don't know what these tubes are for. From everything you're saying, there could be something to this, but very likely not, right?

PAUL: Exactly.

LIBBY: May I ask a question? When you say we don't really know how to play this, what do you mean?

PAUL: -(Stops. Turns white)

I'm just saying I don't know how to say it any other way than that…

LIBBY: Except you didn't say `I' you said `we'. So you and the others have discussed how to "play" these briefings. Why does the CIA feel the need to play these briefings?

PAUL: No. I mean that.. Ok. I didn't mean what I just said.

LIBBY: Which part? The last part, or other things too?

PAUL: I'm a getting a little confused…

LIBBY: You want me to come back?

PAUL: No. GOD, no.

-(The temperature drops five degrees.)

LIBBY: You don't know why I'm here, do you? In 1991, the United States invaded Iraq, and afterwards weapons inspectors discovered Saddam was six months off enriching uranium to sufficiently high specification to make a nuclear bomb. He had fissile material. And not a single person at the CIA, from the DCI down to the janitor had the slightest clue that such a program even existed. So now, one decade on, are you telling me that you're 100% sure these tubes are not intended to create nuclear weapons?

PAUL: I… Sir… OK. With intelligence, nothing's 100 percent.

LIBBY: So. What? -Are you… Ninety nine percent sure? Ninety eight?

PAUL: You can't put an exact figure. You can't be that precise.

LIBBY: But if you had to say, could you say you're ninety seven percent sure? Is there a three percent chance you've got this wrong? Or four? Or five? Still pretty good odds. You like those odds Paul? You willing to put your name to that. Are you ready to make that call?

PAUL: I don't make the call, Sir-.

LIBBY: -(Fixing him)

Yes. You do, Paul. Each time you interpret a piece of data. Each time you choose a "maybe" over a "perhaps" you make a call. A decision. And right now you're making lots of little decisions adding up to a big decision and out there's a real world where millions of people depend upon you being right. But what if there's a one percent chance you're wrong. Can you say for sure you'll take that chance and state, as a fact, that this equipment is not intended for a nuclear weapons programme?

-(The analyst sits frozen.)

LIBBY: Do you know what one percent of the population of this country is? It's three million, two hundred and forty thousand souls.

PAUL: Sir. We're not machines. We… It… We look at the evidence, we game it out. Not everyone agrees all the time. It's a process.

LIBBY: It's a process.

PAUL: Yes.

LIBBY: And not everyone agrees.

PAUL: Exactly.

LIBBY: Who doesn't agree?


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