The Northern Review
51 (2021)

The Case for a Greenpeace Apology to Newfoundland and Labrador

J.R. Smallwood Foundation Fellow, Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark

Abstract: Greenpeace’s early work in the anti-sealing movement in the 1970s–1980s is a complex legacy for the organization to navigate. While Greenpeace Canada withdrew from the anti-sealing movement in 1986 and expressed regret for the impact of its actions on Inuit, the extent of the long-term damage caused by the anti-sealing movement, and Greenpeace’s controversial track record in it, motivated Greenpeace Canada to articulate a more robust public apology to Canadian Inuit in 2014. This commentary outlines a case for Greenpeace to continue its path of reconciliation for activities undertaken during the anti-sealing movement and to apologize to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Particularly, the commentary calls for an apology to sealers, their families, and their communities, and to First Nations and Inuit people from the province, for Greenpeace’s role in inflicting and promoting forms of violence, stigma, and cultural hatred, and in undermining Indigenous rights in the province.


Greenpeace’s legacy as a leading actor in the anti-sealing movement has long been a double-edged sword for Greenpeace International and its national and regional organizations (Burke, 2020). On the one hand, Greenpeace’s work against sealing played a foundational role in the environmental organization’s development, reputation, and style of advocacy. Many members, donors, and supporters of Greenpeace are proud of the organization’s work against commercial sealing in the 1970s and 1980s. On the other hand, Greenpeace was a new organization undergoing internal debate about its philosophical focus, strategies, tactics, and structure when it started participating and leading in the anti-sealing movement in the mid-1970s. Mistakes were made as the organization underwent rapid growth. In fact, one of the Greenpeace leaders at that time, Rex Weyler, noted in 2004 that “[t]he growth rate of Greenpeace had far outstripped our ability to organize ourselves politically” (Weyler, 2004, p. 524). As a result, Greenpeace underwent extensive internal reorganization, which changed it from an ad hoc radical activist group in the 1970s to a professional conservation and animal rights advocacy organization by the 1990s (Carter, 2007).

Recognizing the insufficiency of its apology in 1986 for its problematic conduct in the anti-sealing movement and the continuing negative impact that resulted, Greenpeace Canada apologized again to Canadian Inuit in 2014 for undermining their traditional rights and for its role in the economic and cultural damage caused by the anti-sealing movement (Kerr, 2014). The apology helped encourage the unlikely, but highly successful, working relationship between Greenpeace Canada and the Nunavut community of Clyde River. Together, the community and Greenpeace Canada were able to work against seismic testing that, after approval from the National Energy Board of Canada in 2014, was being conducted near the community as part of oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean; in 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the community’s favour and halted the testing (Tasker, 2017; Bernauer, 2014; Burke, 2020).

Greenpeace’s apology states that its work in the 1970s–80s was against commercial sealing and not small-scale subsistence hunting by local northern peoples—a distinction the organization acknowledges it has poorly communicated (Kerr, 2014). The apology further states that:

Like the corporations we campaign against, we too must be open to change. Open to examining ourselves, our history, and the impact our campaigns have had, and to constantly reassessing ourselves—not just by apologizing, but by humbly making amends and changing the way we work. And we have a responsibility—not just as an organization that once campaigned against the commercial hunt, but also as conscious, socially responsible human beings—to right wrongs, to actively stop the spread of misinformation, and to decolonize our thinking, our language and our approach. (Kerr, 2014)

In light of the willingness to acknowledge damage done to Inuit, now is an ideal time for Greenpeace to consider building on its positive steps, moving toward acknowledging the dark side of the anti-sealing movement, and contemplating an apology to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador who were directly affected by the protests.

Why Apologize? Greenpeace’s Code of Ethics and Moral Standards

As part of an apology to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on the subject of conduct during the anti-sealing protests, Greenpeace should not be expected to apologize for being against commercial sealing; it is a long-held stance that the organization has taken and not one that it is willing to abandon (Burgwald, 2016). Rather, the grounds and parameters for an apology to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are simple: Greenpeace did not live up to its own standards when it engaged in the protest against the commercial sealing.

Greenpeace’s own code of conduct articulates that being cutting edge means that “we encourage people to develop and empower them to take risks and learn from their mistakes,” and that in order to foster trust and respect it seeks to have an organizational culture based on “mutual trust through transparency and accountability in our interactions” (Greenpeace International, 2018, p. 3). The 2018 Greenpeace International Moral Code of Conduct document states that the expected general conduct of Greenpeace members includes the following: 1. “You must act with honesty and integrity and conduct yourself in a professional and courteous manner”; 2. “You must strive to maintain the highest ethical standards and conduct yourself in a manner that will be a credit to the vision and values of Greenpeace”; and 3. “You must act in the best interests of Greenpeace, separating personal opinions, activities, and affiliations from the performance of professional responsibilities” (Greenpeace International, 2018, p. 3–4; also see Greenpeace International, 2020). These are laudable expectations for members of the Greenpeace organization. In the past, however, Greenpeace fell short of its own standards—a point the organization’s Canadian branch has already conceded through its apology to Canadian Inuit in 2014.

In its actions during the anti-sealing movement, Greenpeace did not live up to its own values that are based on the use of “peaceful, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and develop solutions for [a] green and peaceful future” (Greenpeace International, n.d.). A case can be made that it violated its own code of conduct that is based on key principles, such as personal responsibility and non-violence; promoting solutions; commitment and professionalism; trust and respect; and valuing people (Greenpeace International, 2018, p. 2–3). In particular, the relationship between Greenpeace and its stance of non-violence is questionable in the case of activities done by, and encouraged by, some members and supporters of Greenpeace and the anti-sealing movement.

As such, the problems Greenpeace has with regards to its legacy in Newfoundland and Labrador centre on actions done in the name of Greenpeace against local people and culture, as well as those actions and threats by others that the organization was seen to encourage and condone. The organization’s identity is tied to the idea of non-violence, but its past conflicts with this ethos. Specifically, the key grounds for a Greenpeace apology rest in the organization’s betrayal of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who were allies of their early work, and for inciting violence against them under the leadership of Paul Watson; failure to respect and learn about the local peoples whose culture and society it was attacking; and failure to adequately acknowledge First Nations and Inuit peoples in the province. It is through an exploration of these actions that Greenpeace’s failure to live up to its own standards is evident, and through which a case for an apology for the infliction of violence against vulnerable peoples can be made.

Betraying the NL-Greenpeace Alliance and the Controversial Legacy of Paul Watson

Greenpeace’s close connection with Paul Watson in the 1970s is a proverbial albatross around its neck. Watson was the epitome of an activist who did not separate his personal opinions from the best interests of his organization, which in 1976–77 was Greenpeace. Watson was an influential early member of Greenpeace from the early 1970s and his leadership characterized some of Greenpeace’s early strategy, tactics, and philosophy; now, he denounces Greenpeace as “a fraudulent organization” (Essemlali and Watson, 2013). According to Rex Weyler, “Watson tended to push the end of non-violence … Greenpeace simply could not afford to lose the moral stature of satyagraha, absolute non-violence. The Greenpeace Foundation board censured and removed Watson by a vote of 11-1, his being the dissenting vote” (Weyler, 2004, p. 457).

Despite distancing itself from Watson since 1977, Greenpeace has not apologized directly to those hurt by Watson’s violent actions and the actions he promoted while he worked in the name of the organization. In the case of the anti-sealing movement, two aspects of Watson’s actions in Greenpeace’s name that should be addressed are the betrayal of the alliance made with Newfoundland and Labrador sealers and Watson’s promotion of terrorizing sealers while they were hunting.

When Greenpeace first engaged on the sealing issue, it forged “an alliance with Newfoundland [and Labrador] sealers against the large factory ships as the locals found the large hauls of the sealing ships a threat to their hunt” (Harter, 2004, p. 93). In 1976 Greenpeace convinced the Newfoundland Fishermen, Food, and Allied Workers Union, which represented sealers, to cooperate with Greenpeace against large Norwegian fishing vessels participating in seal hunting; the two organizations issued a joint statement (CBC Radio, 1993 as referenced in Harter, 2004, p. 96). Watson stated in 1976:

The fact is that the commercial fleets owned by Norwegian companies are wiping out the seal herds. The fact is the Norwegians destroyed three great herds of seals prior to starting on the Labrador herds in 1947. The fact is that the commercial fleets take only the pelts, leaving the meat on the ice, while the fishermen and [Inuit] of Newfoundland and Labrador do eat the meat. With a conservation stand the seals could have a chance. (Greenpeace Chronicles, 1976, p. 6 as quoted in Harter, 2004, p. 96)

However, the alliance died almost as soon as it started, “abandoned for tactical reasons” (Dale, 1996, p. 91). According to Weyler, “[Bob] Hunter [then President of Greenpeace] held the [organization] factions together with a force of his zany charisma [but was a] [p]olitical pushover for tough advocates like Watson, [David] McTaggart, or [Patrick] Moore who could convince him of the merits of almost any plan”; Watson and Moore in particular did not get along, with Watson representing the “extremes of the environmental movement” and Moore a more scientific approach toward environmental protection (Weyler, 2004, p. 351). By 1977, Watson did an about-face on his previous comments supporting Newfoundland sealing, and Greenpeace rejected its local ally (Harter, 2004, p. 97).

Today we know that Greenpeace has a policy of “no permanent friends or foes,” but in 1976–77 the organization was five years old and lacked the professional structure we recognize today. It is unlikely that locals understood Greenpeace’s willingness to cast off allies with such ease, because that way of operating went against the local cultural practices in rural Newfoundland and Labrador at that time—of community, Christian faith, and helping each other (Patey, 1990). However, the speed and severity with which Greenpeace turned on the local people of Newfoundland and Labrador was staggering and Watson was at the centre of the shift (Patey, 1990, p. 19–21).

So what did Watson do in the name of Greenpeace that was so bad? According to Harry Roswell, a veterinary pathologist who observed the practices of the seal hunt in 1977 and 1978 for the Committee on Seals and Sealing, Watson’s activities, and those he encouraged as the leader on the ice, were nothing short of bullying, intimidation, hostage taking, and physical and psychological harassment. For example, Watson faked being paralyzed after a direct action stunt he instigated caused an accident during the hunt in 1977, resulting in much distress to the wench operator of a ship who mistakenly dropped him when he connected himself to pelts. The wench operator though he killed or permanently maimed Watson, and Watson, claiming to be paralyzed, used the concern of the ship’s crew to gain access to the vessel he had been harassing, and then walked around taunting the sealers with threats of legal action after they had helped him get dry (Rowsell, 1977, p. 23).

Watson tells a different story of his experience. Instead, he depicts his work as a historic non-violent intervention against the vessel and its blood-soaked and cussing crew (Essemlali and Watson, 2013; also see Weyler, 2004). However, Watson’s version is very different to the one of traumatized sealers as witnessed by a fishery officer, and it was not the only time a sealer was deliberately targeted by Greenpeace under Watson’s watch.

Greenpeace members undertook deliberate destruction of sealer equipment such as throwing hakapiks and other equipment, as well as pelts, into the water, and some members escalated the interference to the point of keeping a sealer hostage on a dangerous ice pan. On one occasion during the hunt between March 16–19, 1977:

… four of them [Greenpeace members] surrounded a sealer and refused to let him move from the pan. This intimidation can only be considered as bullying. In spite of the intimidation, the harassment and the provocation, the Newfoundland sealer did not strike out against Greenpeace members or attempt to take any form of defensive action. (Roswell, 1977, p. 25)

By the following year, Greenpeace underwent internal change, and the actions described above were likely a part of the context motivating the change.

Watson was removed from Greenpeace. Leaders in the organization acknowledged internally that his actions and stances undermined their code of non-violence. As a result, Roswell observed in 1978 that “Greenpeace President Patrick Moore did not re-enact last year’s antics of his predecessor, [Paul] Watson, which led to his (Watson’s) dismissal from that organization” (Roswell, 1978) The fact remains, however, that while Watson’s actions came to characterize the local public’s perception and experience of Greenpeace in the anti-sealing movement, his actions actually went against Greenpeace’s own standards and tarnished its reputation amongst the peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout the Arctic (Phelps et al., 2014). While Greenpeace removed Watson from their organization and distanced themselves from his positions and actions, acknowledging internally that he went too far, the organization has yet to apologize for what he did and encouraged against people in Greenpeace’s name.

Respect and Acknowledgement of Local People

The importance of sealing for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is often dismissed on the basis that it was not “a major source of income for Newfoundland” (The Greenpeace Foundation, 1977, p. 2). However, a competing report for the sealing commission noted that in the first half of the twentieth century, despite many fishermen only earning returns of CAD $100–200 in the 1970s and early 1980s from pelts of animals killed for their family’s meat, “in a rural economy with so few opportunities to earn cash, even these small amounts may take on a social significance far greater than for most urban dwellers” (Sinclair et al., 1989, p. 29).

The anti-sealing movement, however, caused a rapid decline in the sealing industry. In the process, the techniques and strategies used to facilitate the industry decline created a long-lasting stigma internationally for all sealers, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and its people and cultures (Phelps et al., 2014; Burke, 2020). A key factor ignored by the protestors was that, at that time, the seal hunt was “an integral part of the seasonal fishing cycle for most of the longliner operations in northern Newfoundland and [was] absolutely essential to the economic viability of many vessels in the fleet” (Sinclair et al., 1989, p. 35). The income from sealing accounted for 30–50% of the income for those who operated the longliners in the 1970s and early 1980s (Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada, 1986, p. 4). In many coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen participated in various seasonal fishery industries, such as cod, shrimp, herring, lobster, and crab. The seal fishery had been part of this traditional economic activity for generations, particularly along the Labrador Coast, Northeast Coast of the Island of Newfoundland, Magdalen Islands, and the North Shore of Quebec (Sinclair et al., 1989). The destruction of the industry undermined the centuries-old economic structures underpinning local communities and culture.

Greenpeace’s own report acknowledged that many of the people still participating in the fishery in 1977 had “3.5 dependents, [and] an average education of grade 9, [and were] living in isolated communities with limited occupational mobility” (The Greenpeace Foundation, 1977, p. 2). Despite Greenpeace’s own principles, including the promotion of solutions (Greenpeace International, 2018, p. 2–3), it did not offer any viable options to the rural people with dependants, limited occupational mobility, and minimal education who were stigmatized and left behind once Greenpeace and its activist allies successfully gutted much of the remaining economic potential of the sealing industry. Stopping sealing was half a plan. There is no evidence that Greenpeace had a long-term plan, if it was successful in curtailing the sealing industry, developed with local people to help them transition their economy away from sealing, and to mitigate the cultural impact of losing a way of life and income.

Furthermore, the practice of seal hunting in Newfoundland and Labrador society was more than an economic enterprise; it created a “culture, and working-class solidarity among the sealing community” (2004, p. 93) with “[t]he class formation of sealers … [differing] from the more typical development of waged workers in Canada” (Harter, 2004, p. 94). According to Sinclair et al. (1989):

Sealing takes place in Canada’s most marginal or peripheral regions, and the fact that commercial utilization of seal products has declined so dramatically in recent years is a threat to the very existence of some of Canada’s most isolated settlements. Consequently, it is important to evaluate sealing not in relation to its contribution to Canadian society as a whole, but with reference to the general resources and economic condition of the regions in which sealing takes place. (p. 2)

Despite the disconnect between wider Canadian society and the sub-cultures and regions in it that practised sealing, the sealing issue was frequently framed by protesters as an antiquated practice in Canadian history (McDermott, 1985, p. 2), which the Canadian majority were now against (Scheffer, 1984, p. 4).

This Canadian framing is a false narrative that was deliberately misleading about those communities, people, cultures, and societies targeted and/or impacted by the protests. The people and sealing culture targeted was predominantly one of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and the province had only joined Canada in 1949 (Cochrane and Parsons, 1949)—less than twenty years before the movement against sealing began in earnest in the 1960s, and which Greenpeace later joined and took a lead during the 1970s (Kerr, 2014). In sum, the severity of the cultural impact of the anti-sealing movement and the psychological and cultural violence inflicted by it cannot be overstated.

First, in the process of protesting against the commercial sealing industry, actions by some organizations and their members, such as those by Watson and Greenpeace members on the ice, as well as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which was also aggressively opposed to the seal hunt (Patey, 1990; Roswell, 1977; Felsberg, 1985), encouraged laypeople to level personal attacks, bigotry, and threats against sealers. While their economy and way of life was rapidly eroding around them, sealers, their families, and their communities were left to deal with national and international media coverage, letters, and telephone calls filled with hatred.

Francis Patey of St. Anthony, Newfoundland, was at the heart of the effort to protect local culture, traditions, and rights during the anti-sealing movement. In his book A Battle Lost he reproduces copies of some of the letters against local sealers, which included vile statements such as:

·        “murderers, may you be damned from here to eternity!” (1990, p. 62);

·        “You people of Newfoundland are a bunch of murderers … I guess it’s true, Newfoundland IS backward, ignorant and prehistoric” (1990, p. 56);

·        “If [killing seals] is the only way these men can make a living, I hope they all starve to death. Better still, maybe we could CLUB them to death” (1990, p. 55);

·        You dirty, rotten son-of-a-bitch! If I could get to you, I would beat you senseless; then I would skin your hide. You are a mean bastard and you will pay for your sins. You’re lucky I don’t go up there now and do it. I hope you die. Don’t be surprised if you hear me or see me … I’d pay anything to have you for five minutes” (1990, p. 50);

·        “You Murdering Bastards” (1990, p. 53);

·        “I have heard you are tired of being called murderers, but if the shoe fits, wear it! ... It is unfortunate that the world is populated with money-hungry people like your gang” (1990, p. 52–3);

·        “I hope you rot in hell!” (1990, p. 52); and

·        “Do you mate for life or will any woman do?” (1990, p. 52).

Second, as Greenpeace stated in 1977, the average sealer had 3.5 dependants and the reality is that those dependants were also hurt by the attacks. Those dependants were children. They witnessed their parents, grandparents, and ancestors; their culture; and their society being vilified by protestors and Canadians who did not want to learn about them, were not a part of their society, and who saw the anti-sealing movement, and its relentless pursuit of the end of sealing practices, as progress. According to Roswell, one of his stops while observing the events surrounding the 1977 seal hunt was at a local school in St. Anthony at the northern end of the Northern Peninsula on the Island of Newfoundland.

During a presentation and discussion with fisheries officers, local children expressed their distress at what the anti-sealing protestors and Canadians were doing against local sealing traditions and practices:

It was obvious that the students and their teachers were upset at the attitudes of other Canadians, who failed to understand the manner in which they lived, their emphasis on family life and not on money. Their desire is to live their own lives in the manner in which they have been living for many generations, a lifestyle which continues to be a driving force in the outports of Newfoundland. They believed that others in Canada were attempting to force them to give up their way of life to adopt that of those in the mainland. This was unacceptable to them. They were frustrated by the lack of understanding of their geographic difference, their social and cultural life and their opportunities for employment peculiar to the Newfoundlander. (Roswell, 1977, p. 24)

The frustrations at what the students felt was repression from activists and Canadians—who did not understand, and did not want to understand, Newfoundland and Labrador culture and society and saw locals as backward and needing re-education into the “Canadian” way of doing things—motivated some local students to petition for help from the Royal Commission that had been appointed to examine the sealing industry.

In 1985, a Grade 10 class from A. Garrigus Collegiate in St. Lunaire-Griquet in the Northern Peninsula pleaded for cultural respect and understanding. They wrote:

We, the students of A. Garrigus Collegiate, grade 10 class, believe that the seal hunt is a vital part of our economical, social and cultural life; therefore we are writing this brief to express our concern. Attacks have been made on our culture before, but never more so than the ever-present frenzy being displayed by various protest groups. The seal hunt has been a vital part of the Newfoundland fishery for hundreds of years and has been a reliable source of income during the long, harsh winter months (Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing Industry in Canada, 1985).

The students did not know it, but by the time they were making their plea, it was too late. The stigmatization of sealing, sealers, and Newfoundland and Labrador promoted by environmental activists had taken hold in the United Kingdom and Europe (Eyre, 1985)—the major markets for seal products. The European Economic Community had already started the process of restricting seal product imports in 1983; a ban that has since escalated to prohibition of all seal imports to the European Union (European Commission, 2019a). Greenpeace’s work against the sealing industry helped stigmatize sealing and sealers, even though the organization did not directly petition for the European Economic Community (EEC), later the European Union (EU), seal product ban (Burke, 2020, p. 6).

Indigenous Hunting: Inuit and First Nations Peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador

While seal product imports are banned by the European Union, an exception for seal product import by Indigenous Peoples was made in 2009 through the Inuit Exception (European Commission, 2019b). This exception, however, took over twenty-five years to obtain since the first 1983 ban, and it only came after pressure from Inuit advocacy organizations and the Government of Canada (European Commission, 2019a). Now the European Union acknowledges that the “seal hunt is part of the socio-economy, culture and identity of the Inuit and other indigenous communities and it contributes greatly to their subsistence and development” (European Commission, 2019b). The EU limits import market access for seal products to products “from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities” if an exception is petitioned for and granted for market access (European Commission, 2019b). The problem is that the market access comes with stigma and financial burdens for Inuit as a result of the decades of anti-sealing messaging by environmental and animal rights groups. Despite the import exemptions secured by three governments—Government of Greenland’s Department of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture; Government of Nunavut’s Department of Environment; and Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada (European Commission, 2019b)—there are still struggles to make export to the EU profitable (European Commission, 2020).

According to the Greenlandic Department of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, the EU needs to help address the stigma. There is a “need to raise awareness and improve information to European citizens on the legality of trade in products from seals hunted by Inuit or other indigenous communities, hereby restoring consumer confidence in seal products from Greenland” (European Commission, 2020, p. 13–14). The Government of the Northwest Territories has also reported that “the direct benefit of the exception has been very limited” because the costs of getting certification outweighs the cost the products and these costs are passed onto the Inuvialuit/Inuit (European Commission, 2020, p. 14).

Greenpeace Canada apologized in 2014 to Canadian Inuit for its failure to acknowledge traditional sealing practices and economies when it protested against commercial sealing. The 2014 apology does acknowledge First Nation, Metis, and Inuit rights in Canada in a general sense, and the apology does voice Greenpeace’s support for their “Indigenous rights to a subsistence lifestyle and the right to sustainable development” (Kerr, 2014). However, there is no specific apology by Greenpeace to Inuit and First Nations peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially First Nations peoples not covered by the direct Inuit apology such as the different different Mik’maq First Nations in Newfoundland (e.g., the Qalipu First Nation, the Benoit First Nation or the Mekap’sk Mi’kmaq First Nation Band of the Northern Peninsula) and the Innu Nation of Labrador (Innu Nation, n.d.; St. George’s Indian Band, n.d.; Benoit First Nation, n.d.; Qalipu First Nation, n.d.; The Telegram, 2018).

Greenpeace Canada’s Policy on Indigenous Rights acknowledges: “the historic role that environmental and conservation groups like Greenpeace have played in undermining Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Title to their lands and waters and their ability to economically thrive” (Greenpeace Canada, 2017), and it also asserts Greenpeace’s respect for “the right of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination” (Greenpeace Canada, 2017). Today, however, the ability of First Nations and Inuit peoples from Newfoundland and Labrador to utilize seals, a sustainable natural resource, in their homeland, has been curtailed because of the stigmatization of sealing products, which has undermined market access and demand. Compounding this problem is the reality that generations of sealing knowledge is now lost in Newfoundland and Labrador through the rapid erosion of sealing practices, traditions, and related economic structures because of the substantial reduction of the sealing industry and out-migration due to unemployment.

What Could an Apology Look Like?

This commentary recommends that Greenpeace consider an apology to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with two key components: an apology to the sealers, their families, and their communities, and an apology to the First Nations and Inuit of the province.

The first part of the apology should be to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a focus on the sealers, their families, and their sealing communities who were targeted and impacted by the anti-sealing movement. There should be acknowledgement that the anti-sealing campaign became too personal and inflicted violence against vulnerable people in their communities (Patey, 1990), who were working in dangerous conditions (e.g., the actions of Greenpeace members on the ice in 1977). The apology should also highlight that Greenpeace should have done more to discourage forms of violence (e.g., personal attacks, cultural bigotry, and threats of harm against locals by anti-sealing supporters) and done more to promote the distinction between local sustenance and commercial hunting and the importance of sealing to local peoples and culture. Lastly, the apology should also highlight that Greenpeace could have, and should have, done more to lead by example and promote respect for local Traditional Knowledge, people, history, and culture while advocating and educating about their agenda for change.

The second dimension of the apology should focus on the First Nations and Inuit Peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador. It should build on the first dimension and acknowledge how Greenpeace’s lack of knowledge about local cultures and practices led to the organizing contributing to a scorched-earth approach against all sealing that undermined Indigenous cultures, traditions, and rights. While such an apology is partially conveyed with the 2014 apology to Inuit (Kerr, 2014), the Newfoundland and Labrador apology should express regret for not doing more to also promote the rights of First Nations Peoples in the province with regard to the sealing debate. Lastly, the apology should highlight how the anti-sealing movement has negatively impacted rights to self-determination—an outcome to which Greenpeace contributed. The stigmatization of sealing has undercut the economic viability of sealing for Indigenous Peoples in the province, impacting their ability to choose how to develop their economies in ways that include the sustainable traditional industry and its associated cultural practices.


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This paper is informed by archival research from the Center for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) collected in spring and summer 2020, and from secondary research from the Ferriss Hodgett Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Special thanks to Colleen Field for her help, and that of her colleagues, with data collection at the CNS, and to Nicole Holloway of the Ferriss Hodgett Library, Grenfell Campus, MUN for their assistance accessing library resources during the COVID-19 access restrictions. The research is supported by a JR Smallwood Foundation Fellowship.