Canada Goose’s decision to no longer use fur could damage traditional economies and Indigenous ways of life, some northerners say.
The Toronto-based company is known for parkas that feature natural goose down and wild coyote fur from Canada and the United States. While Canada Goose has touted the sustainability and functionality of that fur, the company now says it will stop purchasing fur by the end of 2021 and no longer use fur in products by the end of 2022.
“Our focus has always been on making products that deliver exceptional quality, protection from the elements, and perform the way consumers need them to,” said Canada Goose president Dani Reiss in a statement.
“This decision transforms how we will continue to do just that.
“We continue to expand … At the same time, we are accelerating the sustainable evolution of our designs.”
The move has been praised by animal rights groups like Humane Canada and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but some northerners fear for the potential impact on Indigenous hunters and trappers.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya called the decision “very wrong” and noted Indigenous peoples’ right to hunt, fish, and trap is protected in Canada.
“Indigenous people, they know how to use the land, they know how to support their family, and there’s a special relationship with Indigenous people and the animals out of mostly respect and honour,” Yakeleya told reporters on Wednesday.
“The outside society is again telling us who we are, how we should live, and it’s like the residential school all over.”
Yakeleya said the NWT should look at creating its own parka industry with local hunters, trappers, and artisans.
“We want to support our harvesters in our small communities but, more important, to support that way of life on the land.”
‘It hurts the industry’
Nathan Kogiak, fur marketing coordinator at the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment, said he was “extremely disappointed” when he learned of Canada Goose’s decision.
Kogiak said while not many coyotes are harvested in the NWT, the company going fur-free could have broader impacts on the territory’s fur industry.
“Coyote is a big species that sells at the auction house the NWT uses to sell furs on behalf of harvesters,” he said. “It hurts the industry, which is what we don’t need.”
Kogiak said hunting and trapping provide nutritious and culturally appropriate food, promote cultural continuity, community cohesion, and mental health, and transmit knowledge between Elders and youth. Anti-fur activism shows a lack of broader understanding of the importance of fur harvesting in the North, he said.
“Trapping is an important part of Indigenous people’s livelihoods and the traditional economy as there’s no farmed fur in the NWT,” he said.
“I would like to urge Canada Goose to reconsider the use of wild and humanely harvested fur.”
Kogiak said synthetic fur made of processed plastic can have greater negative impacts on the environment than real fur, which is a renewable resource.
Whether real or synthetic fur is more environmentally sustainable has been hotly debated by animal rights activists and fur industry advocates. Research indicates the answer depends on a variety of factors including whether an animal is farmed or harvested in the wild, with wild coyote fur being more sustainable than comparable faux-fur alternatives.
Canada Goose declined an interview with Cabin Radio but did respond to some questions by email.
Asked if Canada Goose plans to use synthetic fur and has looked into the potential environmental impacts, a spokesperson said the company is innovative and has a design approach “grounded in sustainability and functionality.”
Kogiak, though, pointed to a disconnect between Canada Goose’s recent decision and its partnerships with northern communities.
In 2019, Canada Goose launched Project Atigi – the Inuktitut word for parka – with designers from across Inuit Nunagat, the four Inuit regions of Canada. According to the company, the second edition of the project in 2020 resulted in proceeds of $100,000 going to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the organization representing Inuit in Canada.
The Canada Goose spokesperson said the company will “always respect the personal choice and cultural usage of fur around the world” and going fur-free will not affect its northern partnerships.
“This decision solely reflects our business and our path forward as a global brand but will not impact our continued celebration of Inuit culture, design, and craftsmanship,” they wrote. “We continue to respect Indigenous communities and their use of fur around the world.”
In the coming months, Canada Goose plans to release information about its upcoming Project Atigi collection, along with an expanded parka and material donation program with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
‘It’s going to cause a big issue here’
Robin Horwath, chair of the Fur Institute of Canada – which advocates for the country’s fur industry – said it’s not just the North that could feel the effects of Canada Goose going fur-free as coyotes are spread across North America.
“I’m sure it makes everybody nervous because the fur industry is a niche industry to begin with,” he said. “It certainly may cause a downturn in the price of coyotes.”
Horwath said trapping is a wildlife management tool used by provincial and territorial governments and, in many areas of Canada, coyotes are overpopulated. He said if trappers aren’t able to make a profit selling pelts, the cost of coyote management could fall on taxpayers.
“It’s going to cause a big issue here if eventually there’s no market for coyotes,” he said. “Somebody is going to have to keep them in balance and check just for their own protection, let alone the protection of humans and people’s pets.”
“Companies shouldn’t be bullied into not being able to offer what they want in their garments. It should be a choice for the consumer, we should be respectful.”
Meaghan Brackenbury contributed reporting.