"We are also responsible to the natural world. ... We consider the impact of every governmental decision on future generations, on peace - and on the natural world."
(Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority Annual Report 2015)
I grew up in Newfoundland, where I converted to a vegetarian diet at age 11. My decision to take up this ethical position, unpopular at the time, was fueled purely by a love of animals. Over the years, my food choices have evolved, and these days, I have more complex political reasons for the ethical veganism that I live by, which include an ongoing and growing concern for the lives of animals and the industries and economic systems that they are involved in, for my own health, and for the environment. But committing to veganism is complicated, and only becoming more-so over time. I never expected to find myself donning a blaze orange hat and being threatened with arrest for demonstrating support for hunters, but living out our values in this interconnected web isn't always predictable, or simple.
The Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority has negotiated with Parks Canada to determine safe areas for indigenous hunters to exercise their Treaty hunting rights in Ontario. These agreements ensure that indigenous hunters have access to their land and traditional practices, as well as ensuring the safety of other hunters and settler property owners. Furthermore, the Haudenosaunee are engaging in conversations about ensuring the balance of local ecosystems and the impact of climate change. One of the agreed upon safe hunting areas is Short Hills Provincial Park, near St. Catharines. At Short Hills, the Haudenosaunee deer harvest helps balance the ecosystem, which cannot sustain the large deer population that live in the park in the absence of natural predators. The 2015 report of the Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority states that about 500 deer live in the park, which can sustain about 100 of them.
Unfortunately, every year, a small group of local protestors take to the park to try to prevent Haudenosaunee hunters from legally exercising their Treaty rights. The protestors seem to be a combination of local settler property owners who have a "not in my backyard" mentality with regards to the Treaty hunt, and animal rights activists who object to the killing of the deer. These protestors, with the support of local police authorities, set up illegal blockades to prevent hunters from entering the park, and routinely create a stall, holding each vehicle up for as long as possible - up to 20 minutes per vehicle - at the start of the hunting day on their way in to access the land. While the vehicles are stalled, protestors shine flashlights in the faces of drivers, hold graphic signs up to the windows of vehicles, and shout extremist comments at the hunters, often with insidiously racist undertones. In response to the protests, a group of people who support the Haudenosaunee Treaty rights hunters have formed to stand in solidarity at the park entrance, and to try to disrupt the barricades set up by protestors. The Supporters of the Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt consists of local indigenous people and settler allies, members of the Christian Peacemaker Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Team (CPT), and members of the Hamilton/Halton Animal Liberation Team (HALT).
I am a Unitarian Universalist young adult, and our seventh principle is one of my core, fundamental beliefs. Currently, I live in a tight-knit community in Toronto, two doors down from the house that is home to members of CPT. As I mentioned above, I am also vegan, and I am a long-time animal rights activist. This year, after the first two days of the Short Hills Treaty hunt, all of these identities collided unexpectedly. Suddenly, people I knew were on all sides of these contentious demonstrations, and an issue that had never been on my radar before was all over my social media accounts and dominating personal conversations with everyone from my neighbours to my students at McMaster University, where I work as a teaching assistant. My values seemed very much at odds in these interactions, and I immersed myself in learning as much as I could about the issues surrounding Short Hills. What struck me the most, however, were the stories of unnecessarily cruel interactions between those supporting the Haudenosaunee hunters and those who were protesting under the guise of animal rights, but whose arguments seemed baseless and whose agenda struck me as fundamentally racist and colonialist. After thinking long and hard, I sent a message to one of my neighbours on the CPT team and asked if I could join them the next time that they were going to Short Hills. I felt very grateful when they said that they would welcome my company. We left Toronto twenty four hours later.
Protesters and supporters gather at Short Hills at the beginning and end of each hunting day. Hunters begin arriving at the park at around 4 AM, and leave around 5 PM. For those supporters attending both demonstrations, this often means sleeping in two to five hour bursts during the two-day span of each hunt, between classes at universities or shifts and their regular jobs. Local supporters offer their hospitality to those coming in from out of town, who sleep on couches, in spare beds, and on floors. Others travel several hours in often borrowed or rented cars to be present for the demonstrations. This week, temperatures at the park during the demos ranged from 17 degrees to below freezing, and we were present for rain, clear skies, and strong winds. I was personally overwhelmed by the dedication, hospitality, and generosity of the Supporters of the Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt, particularly those from local indigenous communities. Despite the diversity in our backgrounds, and in the face of adversity of many kinds, we were able to share food together, stories together, and spiritual practice together, and draw out each others' strengths in order to support the hunters. I was surprised by the depths of relationships that I was able to form over the course of a few short days.
As a group, the supporters peacefully demonstrate against the ongoing blockades, and enthusiastically affirm our support for treaty rights, for the hunters, their families, and their communities. Despite our positive approach, I experienced physical violence from both law enforcement officers and local protestors. I also experienced great joy in being included in smudging, drumming, and singing with indigenous supporters. The supporters always try to approach the demonstrations with a good mind: we laugh, we dance, we drum, we sing. And we remember: every day that there is a hunt... we win.
I'm out to supporting the hunt until Sunday -- these are the last days of the hunt this season. More information can be found on sixnationsrighttohunt.tumblr.com, cpt-ips.tumblr.com, and on Twitter from my account @_saskeah and @HuntSupporters
About the Author: Emmy Melissa Marie Legge lives in Toronto with her two dogs, D and Boom, and is a PhD student in social work at McMaster University, a youth advisor at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, and currently a co-dean on the organizing team for the annual Unitarian Universalist Young Adult summer gathering "OPUS". Follow her on Twitter: @_saskeah