The Short Hills Deer Hunt – Why Can’t We Live and Let Live?

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.

A Native group gathers for first day of controversial deer hunt in Short Hills Provincial Park. Photo by Dan Wilson.

A Native group gathers for day oneof controversial deer hunt in Short Hills Provincial Park. Photo by Dan Wilson.

 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.”

Deer in Short Hills Provincial Park and target of aboringinal hunt.

Deer in Short Hills Provincial Park and target of aboringinal hunt.

 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.)


18 responses to “The Short Hills Deer Hunt – Why Can’t We Live and Let Live?

  1. What a beautiful article. Dan is my kind of guy. What a fortunate guy he is to have a father that brought him up to be such a wise, compassionate man.


  2. Susan Howard-Azzeh

    The writer of this article is a great person, ethical with a heightened conscience. But I’m sorry, I disagree with his position. Animals are not human beings. So long as they are killed as humanely as possible, not raised on factory farms, and none of their parts wasted, I feel it is OK to eat them. Buying food in a grocery store is a very sanitized experience. Most people now-a-days don’t know where their food comes from, which I think is part of the reason they find killing animals so distasteful. When I lived on a small family farm I could kill one of our free range chickens when it was time to eat one. Now I couldn’t. But I still eat chicken. My family doesn’t eat chicken, beef, lamb or fish everyday. We often eat vegetarian meals. But I can’t imagine I would ever give these up entirely.

    A local aboriginal says, a deer clan member will consider the deer a relative. I’m curious, does anyone know, are many aboriginals vegetarian?


  3. Dan Wilson’s concern for the Short Hills Park deer needs to be wedded to a full understanding of their particular ecological niche.
    Short Hills Park is surrounded by agricultural lands, which form a buffer between the wilderness area and residential development. The Short Hills deer are now so numerous that they present a threat to the existence of some of the surrounding farms, as I learned this morning from a CHCH news segment.
    Reporter Laurin Sabourin interviewed Pelham farmers, who presented evidence of the extensive damage done to their crops by the Short Hills deer. Farmers pointed out that there are no natural predators to keep down the deer population, which has therefore grown exponentially, far outgrowing the carrying capacity of the Short Hills Park.
    The losses to these farmers are serious, so much so that some are considering giving up farming altogether. And developers will be only too happy to snap up those farmlands.
    The disappearance of these farmlands will pose a real threat to the Short Hills deer.
    With respect, I suggest that protestors like Dan do not seem to appreciate the fact that the aboriginal hunt symbolizes the native understanding of the need for balance in the natural world, a balance that we have destroyed. Letting this herd grow too large is not kind, but cruel, because starvation will be the obvious consequence. Taking a handful of deer with bows and arrows seems to me to be a respectful and humane way to keep down their numbers; it is a means of preserving the herd for the long term.


    • The aboriginal hunters aren’t local people trying to keep the park in balance; they’re people from another part of the province who have already wiped out the deer populations back home. So much for balance. Farmers are not an authority on deer populations. The MNR has provided numbers that show the Short Hills deer population is down by almost 40% in the last 4 years. If the farmers don’t want animals eating their crops they should erect fences like everyone else. With respect, the only threat to the Short Hills deer right now is hunters.


  4. There are plenty points of discussion, however the essential issue is we live in a stolen land. Justice, even if its implementation is culturally distasteful to some, requires generational recompense and respect. We haven’t yet paid the bill to our human brothers. More to the point, we keep adding to it.


  5. Patricia Fitzpatrick Naylor

    Dan Wilson is a man with integrity, intelligence and compassion. I don’t know where the idea that there are too many deer came from. I do know that the integrity of this is that there is either misinformation or prevarication involved. in simpler language: the deer are not so plentiful that humans can justify murdering them. Nature got along without us before we began our quest to dominate it and I believe that it will somehow survive after we have done our best to destroy it. If the season has been short on food supply critters give birth to less offspring. Wolves abstain from mating when their pack grows larger than their available food source. Read Farley Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf”. There are many farmers who will explain how to deter critters from munching where they should’nt without anybody needing to die. The methods are actually too vast in number to list. Google will enlighten you. We share this planet with humans and non-humans. We may not know or agree with why something or someone exists but that does not mean we have an excuse to harm or obliterate it. People with spiritual beliefs have written beautiful songs like: “all things bright and beautiful, God made them all”. There are not enough “Dan Wilsons” in this world. People with a conscience will always display their compassion by protesting against cruelty and with every protest others examine their messages and actually join the protesters. Enlightenment can never come too late. Thank you for sharing your childhood memorys with us Dan. I know you have had a positive effect on many people.


  6. I might appreciate a wee bit more of the” cruel-to-be-kind” analogy if this was respected for ALL animals and not just for those that people find it useful to kill.
    There are other ways to limit the number of deer…a birth control for deer has been tried in the U.S. with some success; either mixed in provided-feed or darted to the female. However the hunting fraternity does not appreciate these “interferences” in their past times. As well, predators DO remove the old, weak and sick animals from herds…so why are we locally persecuting coyotes????
    Some species of (female) deer, in times of low food sources, will re-ingest the unborn foetus to supply her body with the necessary nutrients. Nature is fantastic and, if left to her own devices, will tend to even things out.
    As for the local farmers, come on – we can put a man on the moon; please don’t say you can’t come up with some options to keep the deer away from your crops.
    When hunted, the animals will be as dead irrespective who of the persons are killing them is – what their age, sex, creed, religion, or colour of their skin is etc . That is irrespective to the the deer and for those of us who care about other sentient beings’ lives.


  7. Dan Wilson, you say ‘what I did last weekend’ as part of your protest is not important. The protesters at the hunt were unbelievably disrespectful. Their behaviour was so racist and unkind, there was none of this niceness that you say you believe is important in your post.

    My name is Carla Robinson and my husband Drew was at that hunt last weekend. He provides deer meat not just for our family, but others as well. People on the reserve who need it. Learn about our culture, it is rich and alive. Learn about our relationship to the land and animals, it goes deeper than just being their “friend.” We don’t need your pity about what we lost, we are still fighting for our rights. And by the way, a lot of Mohawk warriors died in the St. Catherine’s / Niagara area fighting for Canada’s existence many moons ago. The deer would likely not be in a such a beautiful park for you to enjoy if it was an exploited and abandoned American industrial zone. Anyway, here’s a little background for you from a post I put up last Sunday on Facebook. Keep this in mind this weekend when you protest alongside those entitled and disrespectful protesters. Who by the way are doing something illegal by interrupting a legal hunt.

    “So my husband Drew is not the political type. But he’s been bow hunting with the Haudenausaunee hunting group in the Dundas Conservation area to help keep the deer population down. I say ‘but’ because deer hunting can be controversial down here in Southern Ontario. Last night his group had to go through a gauntlet of angry protestors leaving a conservation area in St. Catherine’s Ontario when they finished their hunt. One lady screamed she’d rather see ‘her’ deer starve than be hunted. I won’t say the racist stuff they were screaming at my husband and the other hunters. But Drew tells me about the relationship he has with the deer; how with his bow he has to be close enough to see them in the eye when he hits them, how like the other hunters, he feels the pressure to make sure he is dead on accurate so the deer doesn’t run away and suffer.

    He also can tell when there are so many deer in an area that the folliage available is running low. They are out again today defending their right to hunt, to have a relationship with land and the animals. Doing something to keep things in balance. They only caught three deer yesterday, out of an estimated 500 in that small over populated park, all three of which are being donated to the longhouse in Six Nations for upcoming midwinter ceremonies. I wish the people who lost their heads protesting yesterday and the person from media who was dangerously tracking my husband’s location in the park via twitter, try to learn more about our culture and relationship to the land. Even though I worry about his safety, I am still glad my husband chooses this way to defend his rights.


  8. Since the announcement that there would be a deer hunt in Shorthills Park by aboriginal hunters, I have personally struggled with the issue. I felt torn.
    The collision of two systemic injustices – the way we humans have historically mistreated other sentient beings on this planet and the way we new arrivals and the descendants of new arrivals have treated Canada’s (North America’s) first peoples.
    Which wrong should triumph. Which wrong is the lesser of two evils. But “A lessor evil is still evil.”
    I realized, thanks to your essay, that turning a blind eye to one evil does not atone for the other.
    Thank you, Dan for your eloquent piece. Your voice helped me clarify my stance on the cruelty of this hunt.


  9. You’re right Carla, I also witnessed some disrespectful behaviour last weekend, from both sides, aimed at Chief Brian Skye and his lawyer. And I wrote on my Facebook wall about the racism directed towards the First Nations hunters. I was disgusted. To be honest though, the racist comments that I heard came only from non-native hunters.There may have been other people saying things, but I didn’t witness it myself.


  10. sheila Krekorian

    Doug: why can’t I add a comment to this post? Sheila Krekorian

    NAL publisher Doug Draper – I don’t know. Unless you sent a comment that went so far over the top around libel, personal attacks or something of that nature, what we do here is receive comments, check them for libel, etc. and ensure there is a real first and last name attached to them, then post them.


    • Sheila Krekorian

      I think Dan Wilson was right on when he titled his article, “Why cant we live and let live?” This question applies not only to the Short Hills Park deer but to those making the racist remarks about the Hunters too. To be clear, I protested the hunt of the Short Hills deer because of where it was taking place, a sanctuary for the deer and other creatures for over 40 years.


  11. Do you eat meat?


  12. Sheila Krekorian

    Please view this youtube video on the subject of the Short Hills Deer Hunt.


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