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Short Hills deer harvest begins

As the end of the day approached, a group of protesters returned to the Pelham Road entrance of Short Hills. VOICE PHOTO

Hunt to run November 11, 12, 25 and 26; December 4 and 5

BY VOICE STAFF

The Haudenosaunee Short Hills Deer Harvest began last Saturday morning at the park’s Pelham Road entrance, with the hunt bringing with it the customary demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. Just before dawn, a convoy of hunters armed with bows entered the park, while a group of demonstrators was there to protest the hunt’s fifth year. Members of the Haudenosaunee First Nation have special access to hunt in the park over four days in the fall, a right that is provided to them under the Nanfan Treaty of 1701.

“It’s tricky to make treaties real in dense urban areas,” said Karl Dockstader, President of the Niagara Regional Native Centre. “And this is a really good opportunity to make a treaty real.” Dockstader points toward Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which affirms the treaty rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, including the Nanfan.

In the week before this week’s hunt began, accusations and counter-accusations were traded. The Niagara Anti-Racism Coalition released a statement saying that “opposition to the Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt in Short Hills Park cannot be separated from racism.”

Opponents to the hunt bristled at the charge of racism, and asserted that their opposition to the hunt has nothing to do those doing the hunting.

Faye Suthons, a resident of Wainfleet who opposes the hunt, said that she would be against the hunt even if “they were green men from Mars.”

Suthons was not among the group of protesters on Saturday, and said that she prefers to oppose the hunt by writing letters rather than engaging in confrontation.

“I don’t go to the protest because I know how badly it affects me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a deer pulled out.”

Suthons maintains that her discomfort with the hunt was a result mostly of her concern for the deer, and says that she has trouble understanding how anyone could shoot and kill the animals. Of Indigenous peoples, she says that she respects “a lot of the culture, because of their respect for Mother Earth. They can teach us a lot. I went down to the ceremony when the [First Nations’] monument was dedicated at Decew. It was beautiful.”

But, Suthons says, “I just can’t imagine what the deer are going through. They’re being hit for a few days, and then they settle down, and then they’re hit again—there’s so much confusion.”

According to Suthons, she has written letters opposing all other hunting in the past, and she and her neighbours have been vociferous in their opposition to hunting near their homes, too.

While Dockstader was a signatory to the Anti-Racism Coalition’s statement, he said last week that he’s hesitant to speak too concretely about the motives of the protesters, but said that “it’s primarily white people protesting the hunters, and this is not a good look.”

Dockstader said that he was further concerned by such protest because many of the hunters are fathers with sons, who are swarmed by the group as they seek to enter or leave the park.

Nevertheless, Dockstader pushed back against the dominant narrative of conflict between those who support the hunt and those who oppose it.

“I think that we can find a lot of common ground,” he said, “especially on matters of the environment and food security.”

On Saturday afternoon, Dockstader reiterated his point about common ground while educating a group on traditional Indigenous ideas. In mid-afternoon, as hunters were still inside the park and protesters had not yet returned, a group of 40 or so supporters of the hunt assembled along the park boundary. The group was gathered near a fire that was far too small to keep the crowd warm.

At the park’s gate, an older man stood complaining about trespassers and hunters to an Ontario Parks employee. The employee nodded from time to time, seemingly engaging just enough to keep the man talking.

“I’m going to begin with a giving of thanks in Oneida,” said Dockstader. “I’d just like to ask that no one record me or take pictures during this. It’s supposed to be just between us and our maker.”

Dockstader began to speak in a quiet, rolling tongue, his voice at times dropping so low that it was inaudible above the cars that speeded by on Pelham Road. He punctuated his words with gestures towards the trees, and ground, and sky, and at one point reached inside his black hoodie and pulled out a small pouch. A subgroup of the assembled, who evidently understood what he was saying, murmured intermittent encouragements and emphases.

Once he had finished, Dockstader moved to explain, in English, what he had just said.

“I started off with an expression that means, ‘Make your ears good,’” he said. He continued by describing the collectivist mentalist that permeated his words. “We’re never really alone,” he said.

“Some people ask me for the translation in the words from ‘we’ to ‘I,’ but there isn’t really one. It’s always a ‘we.’”

At several points, Dockstader circled back to speaking generously about those protesting the hunt.

“I think that people’s hearts are in a good place. And we never want to kill needlessly. But we have a responsibility to live traditionally,” he said.

Dockstader also spoke of the material importance of the hunt to local communities, and how such harvests can contribute to food security.

He concluded with a territorial acknowledgment. “I know these are all the rage now,” he said, “but here, different groups claim the land for different reasons. This is really nobody’s territory—we’re all just placeholders.”

Dockstader did acknowledge the various Indigenous groups who have made claims to the Short Hills land, but finished by saying, “It’s the land of anyone who takes the responsibility for it.”

He smiled at the group when he had finished, and thanked them for listening to his long explanation. Those in attendance—even the small children—had stayed near silent the entire time. For a while after he had spoken, the group milled about, eating food from tables labelled “Omnivore,” and “Vegan.” Some left, and some gathered again around the fireside for a discussion with Stephanie Piovesan, an animal rights activist who supports the deer harvest.

Piovesan told the group that she would prefer a world in which no animals had to die, but that she believes that the deer harvest is a cause that she can support.

“We have to think of how animals are also treated as colonial beings in our society,” she said.

By four o’clock, several police and Ontario Parks vehicles had returned to the park gate, where they were allowed to pull in to the parking lot. Just after four, the protesters returned en masse, holding up signs that read, “Ministry of No Responsibility,” and “Park, Not a Slaughter Field.”

Liz White, of the Animal Alliance of Canada, drove from Toronto to protest, as she has in years past. White maintained that the object of the group’s protest was the Ministry of Natural Resources.

“The MNR says that there’s a need to cull the deer, but the method they use for counting is very flawed—it’s said that the deer do all of this damage to the park, but we never see any evidence of it. But we document the park before and after the hunt, and we see how much damage the trucks and ATVs do in there,” White said.

Reached last week, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Melanie Milczynski, who is manager of the South West Zone, said that, “The reason for the hunt is a respect for treaty rights, not deer population levels.”

Milczynski said further that the MNR has “worked together with the Haudenosaunee in conducting safe deer hunts in Short Hills Provincial Park,” and maintained that public safety would not be endangered.

White disagreed.

“There are signs around on many of the entrances,” she said, “but not everywhere, and the boundaries are so porous that it is impossible to keep people out.”

There have been no reported accidents in the hunt’s history. The Wetaskawin Scout Camp, which borders the park and has been referenced by opponents of the hunt as reason for safety concerns, declined to comment. Comment from the Scouts’ national office wasn’t received before press time.

As a pickup truck of departing hunters approached the gate from inside the park, the protesters, which numbered 20 or so, swarmed in front of the gate.

After speaking with those inside of the truck, a constable waved his arms and called for the protesters to move aside, which they did without complaint, though they did brandish their signs high in the air as the truck passed.

One man, his face covered in a ski mask with skull on it, held a spray-painted sign that read, “End Human Privilege,” and professed his opposition to the “speciesism” inherent to the hunt. As the protesters gathered on one side of the driveway, those still present from the afternoon’s ceremony assembled on the other. A handful of women thumped on drums and chanted, “Humble in the eyes of our creator.”

Another truck left the park. After it speeded away, a different vehicle pulled up on the shoulder and rolled down its passenger-door window.

“No hiking allowed?” a man inside called out.

“No,” said one of the police. “The park is closed.

The man in the car shrugged. “Okay,” he said, and he rolled up his window and drove off.

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