Hunters from Six Nations of the Grand River harvest white tailed deer for subsistence and cultural purposes.
Landon Curly, left, and CJ Hottinger pinpoint where they hunted a deer during a Haudenosaunee deer hunt on Nov. 11. Animal rights advocates showed up to express their opposition. (JULIEN GIGNAC / TORONTO STAR)By Tues., Nov. 14, 2017
ST. CATHARINES—Art Powless watches his 9-year-old son help park staff move a white-tailed deer that was killed earlier in the day. Like his own father did, Powless is keeping Indigenous traditions alive for his son.
It was Oliver’s first time attending the Short Hills Provincial Park hunt, where, since 2013, an annual, six-day Haudenosaunee deer harvest has happened. While he didn’t hunt, he went along to watch and pick up techniques from his father.
“I think he learned a lot today,” said Art Powless, 40. “He saw his first kill shot.”
Many of the 70 Haudenosaunee hunters at the park last week said the practice is a big part of their identity and a tradition since their youth. All were from Six Nations of the Grand River.
The deer are hunted with compound bows or crossbows for subsistence, firearms aren’t allowed.
“There’s a lot more to it than just a fact that you’re hunting,” said Landon Curly, who killed a deer, too. “We give thanks and burn tobacco before we go out. Without that deer, we wouldn’t have anything. It puts clothes on our backs, food in our stomachs.”
“It’s part of who we are. It’s how we get along,” said Drew Hill, another hunter.
And while it’s seemingly a win-win for Indigenous groups seeking to carry out their traditions and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry controlling deer populations, in Short Hills, the hunt has drawn the ire of local animal rights groups.
There are about 400,000 white tailed deer across Ontario, the most abundant compared to other species, according to Ontario.ca, and they are intensively managed, as they can damage property and protected areas.
An MNRF spokesperson said deer reduction programs, including hunts across Ontario ensure the population doesn’t negatively affect local ecosystems.
Twenty-three deer were killed over the weekend, said Melanie Milczynski, manager of southwestern parks for the ministry.
But some activists say killing animals is never a good solution. About 25 people were protesting the hunt outside the park with signs that said “No hunting or firearms” or “End human privilege.”
Sheila Krekorian, second from left, peers into the back of a pickup truck belonging to a First Nations hunter. She and about 20 others showed up during the first day of an annual Haudenosaunee deer hunt to show their opposition. (JULIEN GIGNAC/TORONTO STAR)
“It doesn’t matter who is hunting here,” said Sheila Krekorian, a resident who lives nearby. “It’s just as wrong, just as dangerous. It’s unacceptable. This just demonstrates cruelty.”
She said the hunt is unsafe because there is a Scouts Canada camp within the park and numerous homes surrounding it.
A sign said the park was closed to the public because of the hunt. Regional and provincial police and park staff were seen at various times near its entrance, cordoning it off.
Milczynski said the hunt is very safe.
“There’s more deer than the carrying capacity of the park,” she said. “It’s not a cull. It’s a traditional harvest. It’s important that we respect the treaty.”
Haudenosaunee people have a treaty right to hunt in southwestern Ontario called the Treaty of Albany 1701, or Nanfan Treaty.
Haudenosaunee hunters gather around a deer that was killed during an annual First Nations hunt on Nov. 11. Animal rights advocates showed up to express their opposition. (JULIEN GIGNAC/TORONTO STAR)
The harvest is the result of a partnership between the ministry and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a traditional, hereditary council, an agreement where Indigenous treaty rights are accounted for.
But some animal rights advocates say the ministry is using First Nations people.
“There’s been no study, on the part of the ministry, as to the impact of the park of removing deer,” Liz White, president of Animal Alliance of Canada said, adding that the park’s trails are “a mess” after the hunt, caused by too many hunters and their vehicles. “They say there are too many deer and that this is a First Nations hunt. They use it as an excuse to get rid of deer without having to go through a proper environmental assessment.
“That’s what we’re asking for.”
She said that while she understands that Indigenous people have rights, it ultimately goes against what she stands for.
“It doesn’t matter they’re First Nations,” she said. “It’s the fact people are in the park killing deer.”
Animal rights advocates showed up to protest an annual Haudenosaunee deer hunt on Nov. 11. (JULIEN GIGNAC / TORONTO STAR)
Milczynski, from the ministry, said opposition to the Short Hills hunt is the largest in her southwestern zone. There have been similar hunts in three other parks, she said, with little to no resistance from the public.
A counterprotest, comprised of mostly Indigenous people, showed up to support the hunters. Bonnie Emmerson said objection to the harvest is racist and that her attendance reaffirms a chasm between people in the area.
“It’s here,” she said. “It’s live.”
Protestors in prior years have yelled at her and criticized traditional songs, she added.
“If we weren’t here, it would be different for the hunters,” Emmerson said. “They’ve been spit at, had things thrown at them for basically exercising fundamental rights as Indigenous people.”
The hunt began on Nov. 11 at about 4:30 a.m. and wraps up on Dec. 5.