The Queen has ditched fur — here's what northern trappers think

From August to January, it's hard to find a trapper in the North.

Most are deep in the bush, working traplines that, in some cases, have been in use for hundreds of years.

So they probably haven't heard the news yet: they'll have one less customer for their furs this year — and she's a big one.

Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state, announced last week she would no longer be purchasing fur.

"Our only comment on this story is as follows," wrote her communications secretary. "As new outfits are designed for the Queen, any fur used will be fake."

Gordon Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said, "The trappers I know are all out on their lines currently.

"At the same time all would be disappointed with the decision."

Rosemarie Kuptana, an Inuk former politician and cultural advocate, said she was "somewhat shocked, and then disappointed.

"I think it's a real departure from the commitment to Inuit as a people … because fur is important to our way of life."

Decision follows public opinion

The Queen's decision follows those made by the world's biggest fashion houses to ditch using fur in their designs — Gucci, Prada and Armani among them.

D'Arcy Moses, a Dene fashion designer with a workshop in Enterprise, N.W.T. who uses fur in some of his work, said the shift has been the result of "pressure … from the really strong anti-fur movement in Europe and the U.K.

"The whole gamut of the industry has done an about-face," said Moses. "No one wears mink coats anymore."

Financially, it's another blow to a Canadian fur industry that appears to be in terminal decline.

Just last month, the world's second largest fur auction house, North American Fur Auctions — a former subsidiary of the Hudson's Bay Company with over three centuries of history — went into creditor protection.

It now says wild and farmed fur auctions planned for 2020 are unlikely to go ahead.

Industry assessments show some tanned and taxidermied products remain in high demand at auctions, and Jackie Yaklin, secretary treasurer for the Yukon Trappers Association, said wild trappers are responding by increasingly sending pelts to be tanned out of territory.

But Mark Downey, chief executive officer of Fur Harversters, Canada's other major fur auction house, wrote in his 2019 wild fur market forecast that "many fur species are selling below acceptable levels" — even if a surge in Chinese interest led to a moderate recovery in prices this summer.

Even beyond the industry impact, the Queen's rejection of fur carries an important symbolic weight, ending a centuries-long relationship with northern Indigenous trappers.

 It's a real departure from the commitment to Inuit as a people … because fur is important to our way of life. - Rosemarie Kuptana, Inuk former politician and cultural advocate

"What she wears is very important," said Kuptana. "She is, after all, a world leader, a monarch of 13 countries. And in these 13 countries, there are Indigenous people who [have a] relationship with the land that requires them to hunt and trap."

"The fur trade was how Canada was made," she said. "It's how Canada was built…. So fur was always a very important aspect of our relationship with the royalty."

Trading fur 'to the liking of the colonizers'

Francois Paulette helped found the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories, the precursor to today's Dene Nation. He also sued the Crown over the treaty rights of Indigenous people in 1972 in a famous case known as the "Paulette caveat."

Paulette said what the Queen decides to wear is "her business." But he added that the failure of the fur industry could be grounds for another lawsuit against the Crown.

Johnny Green/AP

"It was the Hudson's Bay [Company] … that initiated trapping into our part of the world," said Paulette. "Trapping became a way of life that never existed."

Paulette said the meteoric rise of the fur trade fundamentally altered northerners' relationship to the land and animals.

"Before that … our people, the Dene, lived in balance with nature, and we took what we needed," he said.

"But something changed, and that was when the Hudson's Bay [Company], along with the British Crown, came to our lands. From there on, our whole civilization, our way of life began to change to the liking of the colonizers."

Now, Paulette said, with the bottom falling out of the fur trade, Dene people are left at loose ends, with a marred relationship to nature.

"The Hudson's Bay [Company], that has taken us down the road, and we have nothing at the end," he said.

For others in the North, the Queen's wardrobe could not be a more remote concern.

"That's her choice and that's her life," said Andrew Akerolik, a trapper in Nunavut's Kivalliq region.

"I'm sure she has no concern for me here."