CBC Radio – Eco-partners: Fighting together for the health of an inlet

This is a story on Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and Ben West of Forest Ethics Advocacy, which aired on CBC’s In the Field. The story can be found at 26:46 here. It was produced with Allison Griner and Yvonne Gall, and based on a multimedia story for UBC’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities course.

Globe and Mail: A vacation that can make a difference

This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail

A performer wearing her traditional amauti, or woman's coat, in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
A performer wearing her traditional amauti, or woman’s coat, in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

Cruising into Pond Inlet is a memorable experience. Having left Greenland’s signature blood-red houses and soaring mountains 450 nautical miles (832.5 kilometres) behind us, Baffin Island’s majestic steep-walled fjords give way to rolling tundra that almost disguises the tiny hamlet of Pond Inlet. Dirt roads lead to nondescript houses; the town’s most prominent features are its hulking white fuel tanks and its name written in pale stones on the hill above.

The Akademik Ioffe is dropping anchor when a passenger asks, doubtfully, “Do people buy things here?”

The answer is yes. Artisans in Pond Inlet carve scenes of hunters stalking their prey into caribou antlers. They sew seal skins into beautiful mittens trimmed with fox fur. They whittle narwhal tusks down to tiny versions of the narwhals themselves.

Shopping might seem like a strange thing to think about when visiting the furthest reaches of our country, but for some travellers, the opportunity to bring home such rare artifacts is part of the allure. While it might seem frivolous, this is serious business: Their desire – and ability – to bring home pricey souvenirs is a vital part of the Arctic economy. But finding ways to integrate cultural practices into income opportunities is still a delicate balancing act this far north.

That day, passengers bought $4,000 in crafts from the visitors centre, according to the manager, Timothy Akoomalik. That’s about average, but the numbers can be deceiving. With carvings going for several hundred dollars – a caribou rack-turned-cribbage board was snapped up for $250 – a few thousand represents only a handful of items. The profits are entirely reinvested into buying more art to sell, with about 75 per cent of the selling price going to the artists.

Some artisans strike off on their own in the hopes of pocketing a larger share. Darlene Simonie, a young Inuit mother, was outside the centre trying to sell a 1.6-metre-long, pure white narwhal tusk for $1,000 to French passengers from another ship.

Money also finds subtler ways into the community. Most cruise ships visiting Pond Inlet pay landing fees and hire guides to give tours, although there is no requirement to do so; some simply drop anchor and come ashore. Colin Saunders, the hamlet’s community development officer, says that a mandatory $2,200 fee will be imposed starting this summer. In our case, the tour closed with a cultural show at the new community centre. Abbie Angetsiak was one of the performers, throat singing and performing traditional songs and dances with her cousins and young children.

“I love performing,” says Angetsiak, who has been doing so for 10 years. Pulling off her traditional amauti, she explains that the $100 she makes for each show supplements her income while she perfects her English at the community learning centre.

With the cruise season beginning to lengthen because of perennially receding sea ice, Arctic communities such as Pond Inlet are discussing how far to go to attract ships. Some hunters complain that they scare off the animals; others become upset when outsiders refuse to play by local rules.

The French-flagged vessel, for example, would be there for two days without paying a landing fee, hiring tour guides or setting up a cultural show. They would also run the stores out of milk and produce. Laurielle Penny, director of Worldwide Quest, the tour company that chartered the Akademik Ioffe, takes a hard line on this kind of behaviour.

“I think they should be driven away with harpoons, if necessary,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a tribute to northern communities, quite frankly, that they even put up with it. … You try to land a ship like that in the Mediterranean … they would never be allowed.”

Most companies do make an effort to have a positive impact. But that means making tough decisions on what to do and where to go. Communities that emphasize cultural development and tourism naturally end up being rewarded with more visits, as well as bonuses such as crates of new sports equipment. With the cruise season limited by Mother Nature, other potential ports such as Kugluktuk and Resolute miss out.

On the final trip across the Davis Strait, we travel back down the Greenland coast, and the contrast between the two countries becomes stark. Greenland’s riches of shrimp, cod and halibut provide a good income for its people, and the Danish government subsidizes the economy to the tune of around $12,000 a person. The result is better infrastructure and a vastly different shopping experience. The passengers revel in Greenland’s souvenir bonanza: Artist co-ops sell crafts in quantity and variety unmatched anywhere in the Canadian Arctic.

I pick up some gifts for friends at a glitzy airport shop: sealskin earrings, muskox-wool bracelets and a CD of modern Greenlandic rock. As we fly back over Baffin Island I look down and wonder if Simonie has sold her tusk yet.

The writer worked as a naturalist and zodiac driver aboard the Akademik Ioffe. Worldwide Quest did not review or approve this article.

Globe and Mail: B.C. bracing for conflict over marijuana grow-ops

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail

New federal medical marijuana laws could provide a lucrative agri-business opportunity to growers – if municipalities will accept the businesses.

The new rules that take effect April 1 govern how medical marijuana is grown and distributed. They are much tighter than before and they encourage large-scale operations rather than smaller, home-based ones that are harder to monitor.

But B.C. growers are finding themselves stymied by municipalities that don’t want the large-scale operations. Meanwhile, smaller growers that have invested in equipment and nurtured businesses under the old rules are having to decide whether to go big, go rogue or shut down.

As of last week, Health Canada had received 383 applications for commercial production. Many municipalities around Vancouver are taking precautions against the coming wave of large, commercial medical marijuana operations. Delta is the most recent, having decided last week to ban all aspects of medical marijuana production, following what many other municipalities have done since the announcement of the Health Canada changes last June.

Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and the Fraser Valley Regional District have also severely restricted where grow-ops can put down roots.

“We don’t want it grown in open fields,” said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson. “We also want it to be in an area where people will be safe from the people who would attempt to break in or steal the product.”

But federal law already covers growing marijuana in open fields, and indoor operations require thorough security processes. Dana Larsen, founder of the B.C. Marijuana Party and the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary, says the municipalities are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist any more.

Regardless of the new rules, Mr. Larsen doubts that all of the small growers currently licensed will dispose of their plants and shut down when the word comes from Health Canada that their licences are obsolete.

“Some of our cultivators are people who have Health Canada licences and some of them don’t,” he said. “Some of the ones who have Health Canada licences are going to stop growing and some of them aren’t. But there’s always going to be marijuana for sale out there. We purchase from a lot of different people.”

James Poelzer, the young chief operations officer of Agrima Botanicals, said he and his company have been treading carefully to meet all the various federal and municipal strictures as Agrima prepares for commercial distribution under the new rules.

Mr. Poelzer said his company searched around for a municipality that would be willing to have them and chose Maple Ridge, where grow facilities are allowed on agricultural land.

“We built on [Agricultural Land Reserve] with the thought that it [marijuana] would fall under the ALR as an approved product that should be grown on farmland,” he said.

But while the law recognizes medical marijuana as an agricultural product, some municipalities want provincial authorization to ban its cultivation even from farm land.

“I think that’s based on preconceived notions of what a marijuana production facility is,” said Mr. Poelzer.

With state-of-the-art fire-suppression systems, air filters, painstaking supply chain monitoring, and constant human and electronic surveillance, these are not the grow-ops of the past.

“You don’t get your licence unless you’ve taken those into consideration,” said Mr. Poelzer. The video monitoring systems alone can be composed of dozens of security cameras recording video that must be kept for at least two years.

Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang derides the new Health Canada regulations, saying that no resources have been provided to the local governments to deal with individual growers who disregard the new rules and continue growing. Since the current system came into place in 2001, Health Canada has issued more than 16,000 licences to growers in B.C., but has not provided local authorities with their locations. As a result, Mr. Jang says the city will not be devoting any resources to enforcing the new laws.

“It’s their mess,” he said. “Until they get their act together and really think these things through, the current system of providing medical marijuana for individual use with a prescription and all the permits is fine.”

Mr. Jang believes that the changes are not motivated by a desire to improve the system, but rather to restrict the program altogether.

“If this is just an ideological thing,” said Mr. Jang, “then it has no place in public health.”