Paulatuk is mourning and celebrating the legacy of Inuvialuit rights defender Peter Green, who passed away this month at the age of 77.
Green spent a lifetime in leadership roles and working for his community. He is best known for his achievements while president of Cope – the Committee of Original People’s Entitlement, an Inuvialuit rights group – from 1982 to 1984.
He also served as a negotiator who helped to shape the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, one of Canada’s first comprehensive land claim agreements.
Green was born in Paulatuk in 1945. At the age of six, he was abducted by Canadian government officials and taken to residential school in Aklavik. He remained there until the school closed eight years later, in 1959. The Anglican Church, which ran the school, recorded the deaths of 17 students during Green’s time there.
“Things were taken from me, such as my language and my self-esteem … and I experienced sexual abuse,” Green told the CBC in 2009.
In the 1960s, the issues of Inuvialuit land rights and ownership were reaching a boiling point. Rampant oil and gas exploration and development without consultation were affecting the traditional Inuvialuit way of life and, in 1970, Cope was formed to address that.
“By the time the oil companies came to Tuk to speak to us, they had already been given their permits. So what good was our response to the application now? To me, it didn’t make sense,” said Randal Pokiak, another former Cope negotiator.
“We tried to bring this to the attention of the government and industry but, by the time our mail goes out and we receive a response, industry has already started their activity.”
Green became involved with Cope while in his twenties. A 1973 Cope report describes the government refusing to recognize the organization and trying to stop representatives participating in meetings. But eventually, negotiations began.
For 14 years, Green and the committee fought for recognition of their rights, enduring what they described as racism, bad-faith negotiating and stalling by the federal government.
Pokiak remembered a 1978 incident in which Cope members flew to Ottawa to speak with federal negotiators.
“We went through each section of the proposed agreement, and then we opened for questions,” he recalled. “Finally, one of the government officials said, ‘Why do you want the claim? The government can take care of you.’
“One of them went as far as saying: ‘You don’t know how to handle money. If you were given compensation, you will drink it up, you will buy chocolates, you will buy chips and pop, you are just going to blow it. And then you are going to cause the government more problems because you will be in a worse state than when you started.’
“That made us really mad, really upset … All this time, they did not get our message.”
For Green, three goals underpinned the IFA agreement.
“We wanted to make sure there were provisions in the agreement to maintain and to keep what the Inuvialuit always stood for and where we came from: how we lived, what language we spoke, where we hunted, how we fished, and trapped. Our livelihoods must be preserved,” he said.
“The second goal was to ensure that we have equal and meaningful participation in the northern and the national economy and society. That meant we did not want to be treated differently, or in any way that would diminish our place in the Canadian economy. We wanted to be full partners in businesses happening around us, we wanted to ensure that we benefited when others were benefiting from our lands.
“The third goal was to ensure that the environment and the wildlife were protected.”
In 1984, while Green was president of Cope, the landmark IFA agreement was signed in front of a cheering crowd of 400.
Green went on to work as Paulatuk’s community corporation director and corporate manager. He served on the boards of the Inuvialuit Charitable Foundation, the Inuvialuit Education Foundation, and the Tuktut Nogait National Park Management Board. Parks Canada recently recognized Green for his protection of the Bluenose-West caribou herd and work toward Tuktuk Nogait’s establishment.
Aged 64, he completed the education denied to him as a child by earning a high school diploma from the Alberta Distance Learning Centre. Soon after, he began relearning the traditional Inuvialuit language he had once spoken fluently and spent his life defending.
Green passed away in early February. He was known not only as a powerful speaker and fierce advocate but as a generous soul and great dancer. On Friday, February 25, Green was recognized in the NWT legislature as a “well-respected Elder” who is survived by wife Sarah, children Eleanor, Eugene, Adrian, Justin, Jesse, and Marjorie, brothers Tony, Noel, Andy, Rubin, James, David, and Ian, and sisters Rita and Irene.