Hunting season is upon us. The Cree of James Bay are out on the land hunting while many more non-Native people are eager also to bag their moose or partridges. It is a great time to be out on the land. I have many great memories of sitting around campfires, travelling the rivers and the great James Bay. There are few if any bugs and generally cool – and that makes for a much easier time to wander through the forest.
Being with my family next to the pebble shores of James Bay in the cool fall air is a favourite memory. I can almost smell the roasted goose, the scent of the pine and other sweet fall aromas of the forest. The fall hunt is part of the DNA of every Indigenous person in this country.
The hunt is changing, however. There are fewer geese, ducks, partridge, moose and caribou. Too many of us hunters refuse to realize. How on earth are the next generations going to enjoy the tradition and culture that is involved in the hunt if we kill the animals and birds into extinction.
If you think this has not happened in the past all you have to do is consider that there are currently 26 creatures on the endangered list in Canada. These include: American Eel, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Atlantic Halibut, Barndoor Skate, Black-footed Ferret, Blanding’s Turtle, Blue Whale, Bocaccio Rockfish, Copper Redhorse, Eskimo Curlew, Fin Whale, Golden Tilefish, Marbled Murrelet, North Atlantic Right Whale, Redfish, Roundnose Grenadier, Sea Otter, Sei Whale, Shortnose Cisco, Shortspine Thornyhead, Smooth Skate, Spotted Turtle, Vancouver Island Marmot, Whooping Crane, Winter Skate and the Wood Turtle.
In the past 100 years we have lost 158 fish, 146 amphibians, 80 birds and 24 reptiles. Much of this was due to human encroachment. Most recently the mainland moose has been added to a list of species that are in danger of becoming extinct in Nova Scotia – there are only about 1,000 left in that province.
All hunters want to come home with something after spending a lot of time, money and effort to track their prey. That is understandable. It also has a lot to do with culture and tradition, no matter your origins. However, those who taught me about harvesting animals, birds and fish always made a point to say we should take only what we need to feed our families and to never take the life of a creature only for the thrill of the hunt. My Elders taught me to give an offering and give thanks when taking from the land.
I certainly agree that we as Indigenous people have inherent rights when it comes to harvesting. But I also realize that there are not unlimited numbers of animals, fish and birds. Any creature can become extinct from overhunting. We should think about our role in this process at a time when most animal, bird and fish populations are declining.
On occasion I hear about hunters, both Native and non-Native, killing moose and leaving much of the carcass in the forest to rot. I also hear about those who kill many dozens of geese and letting them go to waste. These kinds of hunters are clearly not thinking right and may be unwell in their personal lives. Our ancestors did not teach us to kill everything in sight.
If we want to keep hunting with our children and grandchildren and passing down a worthwhile tradition, then we really should consider that all species of prey are declining. We need to keep tabs on animal populations and hunt with an understanding of our impact. We should respect the tradition of the hunter and gatherer in the relationship to the land and the creatures that walk it. If we refuse to do this then we are ruining the tradition of the hunt and all the teachings and cultural aspects of it for our future generations. That would be a very sad thing.
I wish good luck and safety to all hunters, and above all I hope that they respect our ancient traditions. Let the smell of the campfire or woodstove linger in your memory, may the comfort of your family and friends stay with you and that when you take the life of a creature you understand what that means.