Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Friend of a Friend of Mine was Killed Today

Haudenosaunee hunters in Short Hills. Note the deer in the back of the truck

Let’s say you’ve noticed that a stray cat has been hanging around your backyard. You love animals – who doesn’t? – and you want to help him out if you can. Maybe he’s a feral cat and you’ve tried getting close to him but he’s just too clever for that.

Still, over time, and because you’re putting out food for him, he’s become used to your presence. He tolerates you. You’re kind of like his guardian angel, and naturally you look forward to seeing him out there every day. Regardless of what he thinks about you, you’re his friend.

So how would you feel to learn, upon coming home one night, that your friend, this stray cat who calls your backyard home, was shot through the head, killed by a neighbour who perhaps didn’t share your love of cats, or just enjoyed killing animals?

This happened today to a friend of mine. Only the victim wasn’t a cat. It was a whitetail deer. He was killed in Short Hills Provincial Park during the first day of the now semi-annual First Nations deer hunt. My friend, protesting at the gates of the park, instantly recognized the antlers sticking out of the back of one of the hunter’s trucks as it left the park tonight.

The buck, with his incredibly massive and unusual looking rack, was a frequent visitor to my friend’s backyard, which borders the park in the south end.  In fact, my friend had showed me pictures of this magnificent animal only a few days earlier. Now he was dead, because someone else saw him as a THING to eat.

Had this been a cat or dog, the public would be up in arms and demanding the killer be charged with animal cruelty. But because it’s a deer, the law says it’s okay. How is this okay? How is a deer any different than a cat or dog? Aren’t they all mammals and, given the choice, would rather live than die?

What kind of world do we live in where someone can kill someone else’s friend and get away with it? Why is it someone’s “right” to end another’s life?

A friend of a friend of mine was killed today. The killers are celebrating the death of this animal even as I write these words but as far as I’m concerned, this is a sad day for humanity.

P.S. To my friend, I’m sorry for your loss.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cultures of Violence

MNR and Haudenosaunee representatives at White Meadows
So it appears we’re going to have another native deer hunt in Short Hills. That will be the second one this year, only this time the park will be closed for all four weekends in November, up from two weekends back in January. 

The announcement came from the Ministry of Natural Resources on September 19 at White Meadows Farms in Pelham, where the MNR staged an impromptu open house to answer the public’s questions.

A few representatives of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy also attended, to clear up any misconceptions people might have about the “harvest” and why we (anyone not native to Canada) need to respect the natives’ culture.

Nearly every viewpoint was heard that night. Farmers who want the deer culled because they’re eating the crops, residents who want to protect the deer, local hunters angry that only natives can hunt in the park, people against treaty rights, tree huggers, animal rights activists, NIMBY’s and more.

Now I sympathize with the Haudenosaunee and what the “white man” did to their ancestors, how they were driven off their lands and how they’re struggling to keep their traditions alive today.

It was our culture of violence that was responsible for almost wiping them off the map. Our progenitors saw themselves as “superior” to the so-called savages and this arrogance justified the near-annihilation of them. It was a terrible time in our history and I hope it is never repeated.

But the natives also perpetuate this culture of violence. They see the deer as resources, things to be "harvested", as if these animals were fruits and vegetables. They see themselves as "superior" to other forms of life, as if all the earth were here for them to do as they please.

Just as we do. We exterminate, slaughter, hunt and “harvest” any and every species that gets in our way, has a pleasing taste or gives a good chase. I can’t look at a native hunter as the “bad guy” while my own people commit even worse atrocities to other sentient beings.

When asked why the natives have to kill deer that are so habituated to human beings it’s like shooting fish in a barrel (according to the MNR, Short Hills is the first provincial park to allow hunting since the late 1970’s) the Haudenosaunee ambassador replied, “Don’t you eat chickens?”

He makes a good point. With the exception of a few vegetarians and vegans in the audience, everyone there that night eats animals of one kind or another. Why are we so appalled at the killing of a few doe-eyed ungulates but don’t think twice about the animals we eat three times a day?

The cows, pigs, chickens and other animals we breed, raise and butcher for food are just as vulnerable, just as cute and just as worthy of our compassion as those whitetail deer. We chastise one culture of violence but fail to acknowledge our own.

If you really care about animals and want to reduce the amount of suffering and violence in the world, go vegan.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Final Thoughts on the Short Hills Deer Hunt

“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Rights are bullshit - there, I said it. They’re an illusion, a pie-in-the-sky ideal. More like “wouldn’t it be nice if things were this way” rather than the way things actually are. They’re principles, propositions and beliefs, not carved-in-stone laws. Sometimes they’re called natural rights and sometimes they’re called inalienable rights, like the right to life. But they’re still all bullshit.

If we all have the right to an education and clean water, why are so many of us without either? And doesn’t a child have the right to go to school without being murdered by a gun-wielding maniac? But it happens. Without respect for another person’s life, what good are rights?

Aerial shot of protest and blockade at Pelham Road entrance
And then there are those whose rights seem to carry more weight than the rights of others. Take the First Nations deer hunt in Short Hills Provincial Park a few weeks ago. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the native deer hunt in Short Hills was “a traditional hunt by First Nations exercising their treaty rights.”

Because the First Nations wanted to exercise their treaty rights, my rights – including the right to enjoy a public park I help maintain – were not only secondary to the natives’ treaty rights, but for the first two weekends in January, were actually taken away.

Why didn’t I have the right to enter a provincial park funded in part by my tax dollars? My “right” to hike through a provincial park was suspended so a group of natives who don’t even live in the area could exercise their treaty rights. Their “rights” trumped mine.

And why were the native hunters allowed to drive their trucks and suburban assault vehicles into the heart of a provincial park when non-native hunters, during their hunting season, are not?

On the second Saturday and Sunday of the hunt, Niagara Regional Police shut down Pelham Road, stopping any vehicular traffic from driving past the Pelham Road entrance to Short Hills where the protesters were set up.

Niagara Regional Police shut down Pelham Road
This effectively killed any chance the protesters had to educate passersby about the deer hunt at Short Hills. Sure, the protesters still had the “right” to assemble peacefully, and they still had the “right” to exercise their freedom of speech. Unfortunately, the only ones around to listen to their message were a couple of pigeons sitting on the telephone line across the street.

The police said they shut down the road because they were concerned about public safety (somebody being hit by a car because they might stand too close to the road was the reason given). Then why wasn’t the deer hunt shut down when the police learned that several groups of protesters were inside the park? So much for public safety…

Because of the political tension surrounding the hunt and out of a fear of being labeled racists, the police ignored the rights of one group of citizens to accommodate the rights of another.

And what about the rights of the animals not to be hunted down and killed? What gives anyone the right to take the life of another? Whether you’re native or non-native, if you kill other animals when you don’t have to (meaning the human body doesn't require animal flesh to maintain good health or nutrition), saying you respect those animals is just more bullshit.

When killing becomes a “right”, perhaps it’s time to say that certain “rights” are wrong. Instead of the Idle No More movement, I’d like to see a Killing No More movement. Extending our circle of compassion to include the animals is the first step.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thoughts on the Short Hills Deer Hunt

Some of my earliest encounters with “wildlife” took place in Short Hills Provincial Park. My grandparents used to be the caretakers at Camp Wetaskiwin, also known as the Boy Scout Camp, on Pelham Road outside St. Catharines.

As kids, my sister, my cousins and me would explore the trails, and my dad would take us winter camping (we built our own lean-to) or into the bush to identify the various edible (and poisonous) plants. We also spent a lot of time discovering and befriending many of the creatures that lived within the park.

I still spend a lot of time in Short Hills. Whether I’m hiking or doing my waterfall photography, I’m amazed and delighted when I spot a group of deer resting underneath the hydro towers, a lone coyote walking along the Bruce Trail or a new kind of beetle.

A few winters ago I sat patiently by Terrace Creek Falls, watching and waiting for a raccoon to stir from her sleep in the hole of a tree. All I could see was her bum! I must’ve waited an hour or so in the snow before she roused herself, stared at me long enough so I could snap a few photos, and climbed further up inside the tree, away from prying eyes.

No Hunting sign at Short Hills Provincial Park
Sometimes I see deer on my hikes, sometimes I don’t. But I know they’re there. They’re always there. When I do see them it’s like reliving my childhood, and anyone who hikes with me knows the joy I get from seeing my forest friends. Sometimes the deer hang around a bit and I get the feeling that they know I’m not going to hurt them. I think they can sense it. When I’m in Short Hills I feel like I’m home.

Chief Seattle once said, “We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.”

So when I heard about the First Nations deer hunt that took place last weekend and that’s taking place again this weekend in Short Hills, I was angry and I was sad, because I knew my friends were going to be killed. These animals have never been hunted here, at least not in the last 40 or 50 years.

They’re not starving to death and according to all the reports there is NOT an overpopulation problem in Short Hills, despite what some pumpkin farmers might say. The deer are familiar with, if not habituated to, people in the park all year long. A hunt would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

I agree with Chief Seattle. These animals ARE our brothers. They’re also our sisters. And they’re my friends. So what I did last weekend – the details aren’t important – was what anyone would do for their friends or family members. If someone were trying to hurt your brother, sister or friend, would you stand idly by?

First Nations hunters inside Short Hills Saturday
I respect the indigenous peoples, and I sympathize with what has happened to them and what they have lost. I also respect the treaties, contracts and agreements our government has made with them (even if I don’t agree with all of them). But the one thing I can’t respect is the unnecessary slaughter of innocent animals. I sympathize with the animals more on this issue.

The indigenous, like the rest of us, have a choice. If they want food they can go to a grocery store like everyone else. They don’t need to kill the deer to nourish themselves. This is the 21st century. Why are any of us still killing animals for food?

I hope this isn’t coming off as racist, because it’s not meant to be. I usually respect the law but only to a point. When a law says that it’s okay to kill, then in my opinion it’s a bad law.

And I believe there is a higher law that we should be living by, or at least a rule that I live my own life by and I suspect that most of you do too. It’s called the Golden Rule: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. If you wouldn’t like somebody driving an arrow into your chest, don’t do it to someone else.

The other rule I live by is this: Be kind to others and do as little harm as possible. Just because they’re not human doesn’t mean they should be excluded from our circle of compassion. 

For me, opposing the First Nations deer hunt has nothing to do with the indigenous people or treaty rights. For me, it’s about a group of people trying to kill my friends.

Protesters outside Short Hills
Three deer were killed Saturday and one was killed Sunday. The hunt continues this weekend, January 12th and 13th at Short Hills Provincial Park. And so will the protests.