Video by Johnny, Article by Sarah Frank of North Star Newspaper
MOOSE DEER POINT – One Moose Deer Point First Nation member is concerned he’ll be forced to stop hunting at night. George Williams, who was raised in the First Nation, was given a notice last month stating members should only hunt during daytime hours.
The notice was given to all of the First Nation members as a result of “numerous inquiries/complaints from the membership,” the letter states. According to the notice, the Moose Deer Point council has sought the assistance of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to investigate and help enforce the issue within the First Nation’s territory. Williams, who’s been practicing night hunting since he was a child, said he prefers to hunt later at night, for safety reasons.
“There are no people walking around the bush at that time,” he said. “Safety is always the number one priority.”
The traditional hunts on the First Nation begin on the Harvest Moon in October, and run until the end of December, said Williams, who usually heads out to hunt around 10 p.m. “If there are special events going on, and people are out later, I wait until 1 a.m.,” he said. Hunting, said Williams, is essential to maintaining a traditional diet – usually composed of deer, bear, moose and fish. During his night hunting excursions, Williams said he typically nabs four deer each year – enough to feed him and his family for the winter, and to share with some of the other elders from different First Nations.
Williams said hunting the deer also comes in handy for elders’ ceremonies – for which he sometimes supplies meat.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15,” he said, noting if his right to hunt at night is taken away, he may not be able to secure enough food for the winter. Banning his right to hunt at night, is taking away one of his birth rights, said Williams last week.
While First Nations have the right to self-governance, Williams isn’t sure whether or not council is breaking any rules by restricting night hunting. According to Marci Becking, a communications officer with the Union of Ontario Indians, it’s not unusual for First Nation’s to have different by-laws.
“The MNR ban night hunting in general,” she said. “But on traditional land night hunting is allowed as long as safety and conservation rules are followed.”
Becking also said that in the case of Moose Deer Point, there might be specific circumstances leading to putting the rule in place – whether or not it is legally enforceable is a grey area. Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs media relations representative, Phyllis Bennett, also wasn’t sure if banning night hunting on the First Nation imposes on treaty rights.
“I thought it would be a relatively easy answer to find,” she said last week. “Turns out it’s not.”
Rhonda Williams, band administrator for Moose Deer Point First Nations, said she wasn’t prepared to comment on the issue and directed the North Star to Barron King, the First Nation’s Chief, who didn’t respond to requests for an interview by press time Tuesday. According to Williams, any major policy changes or issues that are important to the First Nation’s members, are usually communicated more thoroughly.
Now, he’s having a hard time understanding why he’s been given the notice without further explanation.
“(Council) never met with the community, there are no reasons..” said Williams. “I’m not the only one who’s upset, but no one else wants to speak out because they’ll be black-balled – like me.”
Under the Robinson-Huron treaty, signed in 1850, First Nations members have the right to hunt, fish and gather in a manner consistent with previous historical practices. Shawanaga
According to Adam Pawis, head councillor with Shawanaga First Nation, if there are issues that affect or change a First Nation member’s inherent right, the community should be consulted. Pawis said he hasn’t heard any complaints regarding night hunting from Shawanaga residents.
“We do hunt here, and we do spearing at night,” he said. “If someone has a bear bothering them in the night, by all means, we have no problem with people in our community taking care of that themselves. There are no safety concerns.”
Pawis said each First Nation has their own rules – but they aren’t meant to restrict the birth rights of First Nations members.
Pawis said it’s not unusual to get mixed messages from both federal and provincial governments regarding Aboriginal rights.
At Shawanaga, Adam Good works as a consultant, sometimes helping to ease communication between First Nations and provincial and federal government.Shawanaga is only one of four First Nations to have a consultant.
“Federal governments have no idea how to consult with First Nations,” said Pawis, noting that any major issues pertaining to First Nations people or land requires meaningful consultation with First Nations officials. “It’s an afterthought, it’s been happening for hundreds of years. (Government) still have this old-school dogma that we’re just poor native people.”
Next Williams isn’t sure what to do next. If he has to, he’ll plan a protest, he said. “I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I’d rather solve this the easy way. I think other people, from other First Nations, would support me on this.”