By Dan Wilson
(Dan Wilson participated in protests this January 5 on the first day of a controversial deer hunt the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources approved for aboriginal people in Niagara’s Short Hills Provincial Park. Here is his report.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
Dan Wilson is a Niagara resident and long-time advocate for the humane treatment of animals. He is a regular contributor of commentary and photography to Niagara At Large.
(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views on this post. PLEASE NOTE that NAL only posts comments by individuals who also share their first and last name with their views.)