Robert Campbell penned the following note in his Hudson Bay Company post diary on Sunday, March 14, 1852 at Fort Selkirk: “An Indian arrived starving, all at Baptiste’s camp in the same state. Starvation is making sad work this year.”
A month later on Sunday, April 18th he recorded: “Grondiha arrived starving, nothing but news of starvation everywhere this year.”
Hunger has swept across this land many times. Michael Gates records a July, 1895 dispatch by Sergeant M.H.E. Hayne in his book Gold at Forty Mile Creek.
Haynes was with the NWMP detachment in that mining camp. He noted the arrival of “a solitary man who was making his way down to Forty Mile in a boat … had been up at Sixty Mile all winter — it was now the end of July — and they had run out of food up there … They had not tasted sugar or salt all winter, and they were simply ‘existing’ — how it is impossible to say … He had been sent down as a desperate last measure to see if they had been forgotten.”
The recent experience of near starvation in the pre-gold rush mining camps of the Yukon led Commissioner Walsh to issue his famous order early in 1898 that no one would be permitted into the Yukon Territory without packing in a year’s provisions.
From that order, in part, we get our iconic images of that long line of humanity packing supplies up the Golden Stairs on the Chilkoot Trail.
Famine, starvation, hunger and poverty have been part of human history from time immemorial. It has only been in the last century here and in much of the northern half of the planet that we have not had to worry if we would have enough food to get by until the next year’s harvest.
Will our food security last? Does our profligacy with world resources and wasteful misallocation of public dollars on bullets instead of bread mean that we are condemning future generations again to a hardscrabble existence marred by hunger and poverty?
In Gwynne Dyer’s October 10th column (full text on his website at www.gwynnedyer.net) he calls our attention to the fact: “For the sixth time in the past seven years, the human race will grow less food than it eats this year.”
Dyer notes that the “world’s food stocks have shrunk by half since 1999, from a reserve big enough to feed the entire world for 116 days then to a predicted low of only 57 days by the end of this year.”
He attributes this erosion in the global grain supply to “three different factors: meat, heat and biofuels.”
Global droughts have reduced harvests by a total of a billion tonnes over the last two years. Is this a concrete sign of climate change?
The demand for alternative fuels has also begun diverting massive amounts of grain into ethanol production and finally our meat-centered diets mean about five to seven-and-a-half kilograms of grain get converted to produce just under a kilogram of animal flesh.
We have choices to make. We have a whole lot more tools than our ancestors had to help us once we decide to do something about hunger and poverty. We need to take a stand now.
This coming week we mark World Food Day on October 16th and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Tuesday, October 17th. The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will be hosting a week of activities along with other community organizations.
Through these events they hope challenge us locally and globally to make poverty history. For more information on the national Make Poverty History campaign contact (www.makepovertyhistory.ca).
A community potluck celebrating our local efforts to eradicate poverty will be held on Tuesday, October 17th at the Whitehorse United Church at 6th and Main beginning at 5 p.m. All are welcome. For more information call George at 667-4585.