Friday 17 January 2014

Men of Yore: Archibal Belaney (aka 'Grey Owl')

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

Archibald Belaney (also known as 'Grey Owl')

Grey Owl (or Wa-sha-quon-asin, from the Ojibwe wenjiganoozhiinh, meaning "great horned owl" or "great grey owl") was the name Archibald Belaney (September 18, 1888 – April 13, 1938) adopted when he took on a First Nations identity as an adult. Born in England as Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, and migrating to Canada in the first decade of the 20th century, he rose to prominence as a notable author, lecturer, and one of the "most effective apostles of the wilderness".[1] In his experiences with the Ojibwe Indians, Belaney learned the Aboriginal harvesting techniques, trapping, and Ojibwe culture. The pivotal moment of departure for Grey Owl's early conservation work was when he began his relationship with a young Iroquois girl named Gertrude Bernard, who assisted in his transition from trapper to conservationist.[2] 
In working with the National Parks Branch, Grey Owl gained recognition and fame in his early career as a conservationist, becoming the subject of many films, and being established as the “‘caretaker of park animals’ at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba” in 1931.[3] Together with his numerous articles, books, films and lectures, his views on conservation reached audiences beyond the borders of Canada, influencing how people saw their adverse relationship with nature. His conservation views largely focused on humans' negative impact on nature through their commodification of nature's resources for profits, and a need for humans to develop a respect for nature.[4] 
Revelation of his British origins after his death adversely affected Grey Owl's reputation for some time. Since the 1970s and, with the centennial of his birth, there has been renewed public appreciation for his conservation efforts. Recognition has included biographies, a historic plaque at his birthplace, and a 1999 biopic about his life by the director Richard Attenborough

Environmentalism and obsessions with all things 'eco' might be practised by middle-class luvvies these days, but back in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was something that free-sprited men like Archibald Belaney practised irregardless of the fashions of the day.


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