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Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I am all for solving long-lost mysteries and discovering things at the bottom of the ocean.
Since having had the chance to travel in the Arctic myself, for the past few years I have been following with interest – and skepticism – your quest to find the Franklin ships. I saw it as a strategic human-interest story, a sleight-of-hand to distract the public from your larger interests in the region: namely, mapping the ocean floor for resources and military purposes.
But with this breaking news: the discovery of Erebus, what I am really struck by is how you, Prime Minister Harper, and Sir John Franklin, though separated by 170 years of history, you are like soul mates.
I see two men obsessed by the strategic power of laying claim to the Arctic and Northwest Passage, motivated by the glory of your own names going down in history for “discovery”, and both unwilling or uninterested in listening to the knowledge and voices of indigenous people of the region from whose wisdom you could benefit. Two men who appear to repeatedly employ non-evidence-based decision-making.
Franklin and his crew perished in the Arctic, apparently oblivious to the irony of clinging to their silverware, proper teapots, tinned food and refusal to learn tools for survival from the Inuit. Likewise, you are seemingly oblivious to the irony of your massive spending to find Franklin’s ships while simultaneously slashing federal budgets to science research, environmental research, archives and libraries, and Parks Canada – not to mention your refusal to commission an inquiry into the deaths of murdered and missing Aboriginal women. It might almost be funny, if there weren’t so many lives at stake.
The real conversation we need to be having of course is not about the lost-or-found ships, it’s about our colonial heritage and legacy. It’s about the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in this country. It’s about our history and how it gets taught, or not taught. It’s about global warming, and how the Arctic is the (not-so) Distant Early Warning system telling the planet where we are headed. It’s about the future of resource development and extraction in the North. It’s about who owns and has control over our land and our water. It’s about the very near future. It’s about how we treat each other and our shared home, country and planet.
We are all treaty people.
Prime Minister Harper, I call on you now to look beyond artifacts, beyond oil and resource extraction, and beyond empire. I call on you to protect our water and land. To make Canada a leader for global environment policy, and for the rights of indigenous people.
Mr Harper, don’t let your legacy be a shipwreck.