Back in the spring of 2012 long before our project set sail we had enjoyed ordinary collegial relationships with scientific colleagues in government science organizations like the Institute of Ocean Sciences near Victoria and Pacific Biological Research station in Nanaimo. Heck we’d been invited to participate in workshops, training sessions, and engage in all manner of collegial conversation talking about our world class science, Village Style. At one workshop in February the government science teams helped us install software specially made to study our plankton blooms on our laptops and that gave us access to global earth science satellites and taught us how to use that software to add state of the art satellite remote sensing to our scientific tool kit. A good part of why we were able to make this claim “world class” was because of this normal scientific repartee’.
Then one day things started to change. A pair of the most senior, indeed emeriti status, ocean scientists wanted to meet with us and talk shop but they asked that instead of the usual at the institute meeting this meeting would have to take place in the dark of night in an obscure pub away from the view of their overlords. OK this was a strange request but their advice and counsel was/is so very valued by us we are willing to do whatever is necessary to be able to talk about ocean science with Canada’s top ocean scientists. We talked of our plans and of such things as using dissolved Oxygen readings from one particular instrument as a scientific proxy for dissolved CO2, yes it wasn’t ordinarily done but would work just fine. This saved us buying a very expensive additional dissolved CO2 instrument. Just the sort of help from men with a lifetime of experience that a tiny village project running on a very limited budget needed.
The meeting took place ans sure enough the words “black list” came right up. It seemed that emails had been circulated to all the scientists on the West Coast of Canada that to talk to us, the Haida Salmon scientists would bring retribution. Now if this isn’t Theater of the Absurd in the making we just don’t know what is. And this is with guys whose only connection to the government is that they had led such outstanding careers on behalf of Canadian science that in their retirement years they were allowed access to their old institute where the voluntarily continued to contribute their life long gift of knowledge to Canada. But as for now if they dared speak to the Haida “that would be all she wrote.”
Confirming this “black list” is another episode of our saga. When we were advised by a “friend” in government that a highly ranking ocean science person was interested in hearing more about our village project, so we called her. She was indeed very highly positioned in Ottawa, far above the ranks of those scientists here on the West Coast. Taking the call she expressed her interest but said she’d have to check to see if she was permitted to talk to us to learn about the work of this remarkable village project. She contacted us some days later with an apology, no she was not permitted to communicate with us, there was an “embargo” on us.
That the black list threat was and is real is made painfully clear by the very recent experience of one scientist in government who did indeed help us. Just recently he retired and having spent nearly half a century in government service was expecting to be honoured with emeritus status at his institute. Days before his retirement he was told to forget about any ceremonial retirement or of emeritus status. He’d been helping the Haida and he was now unwelcome. Many can testify that this man unlike so many was not retiring because he had nothing left to contribute. He’s still an astonishing brilliant scientist, thoughtful, kind hearted, charitable… just the sort of trouble maker the system needs to black list.
And yet it works.