The controversy surrounding the Short Hills Deer Hunt is back in the news as settler hunters have been illegally hunting deers in the park in advance of the legal Traditional Haudenosaunee Hunt. They have been leaving the deer carcasses strewn about as some form of grotesque protest.
Nearly a year since the first hunt, local papers have now at least referenced the treaty which establishes the right of the Haudenosaunee to hunt in this park – the Albany Deed of 1701. With the hunt set to resume in a few days though, this has not in any way stopped an array of settlers organizing and expressing their outrage.
Taken in a cultural context and compared across many different “outrages” amongst animal advocates in North America, the Short Hills Deer Hunt, and the core issues at play, begin to take shape. Almost every practice of animal use that the largely white dominated animal advocacy movement decries as “backwards,” “barbaric,” or “uncivilized” can be traced back to a scarcity created by our own dominant society.
For example, there is no shortage of animal advocates to decry the practice of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Few advocates though trace that practice back to the necessity that drove it – World War II and the devastation, death and destruction sewn by warfare and the dropping of two nuclear bombs by the United States.
A similar process is at play with outrage over the use of dogs in Korea – a practice resumed and heightened out of necessity during warfare.
The Haudenosaunee were known as an agricultural superpower prior to contact with settlers – focusing their efforts on growing the “three sisters” – corn, beans and squash. The women were the farmers, while the men cleared the brush. Their agricultural practices were tied to spiritual practice and are still practiced and considered sound agricultural use in opposition to dominant societies era of monocropping and GMO’s.
As settlers colonized the lands, erased and destroyed many coastal tribes, they encroached on this agricultural system with a European agricultural system that demanded growth. Their system demanded an excess of crops and land needed to feed imported captive domesticated farmed animals, pushing out and nearly destroying the centuries old Haudenosaunee agricultural industry. Hunting, and ensuring the rights of hunting, became a priority for any remaining tribes entering into any relationship with settlers as their agricultural lands were being taken away from them.
Forced onto reserves and with centuries of continued assimilation and genocidal policies, the necessity for traditional hunting rights remains as food scarcity on reserves continues and remaining traditional agricultural practices face new problems.
All of these practices, from Japan to Korea to Short Hills are about autonomy. In each example a population is engaging in a practice that was either borne out of, or staunchly defended because of, a collapse of existing food systems and the introduction of scarcity. What is most absurd, is that the populations most responsible and who gain the most privilege from this lack of autonomy and food scarcity are the exact same ones who vocally express the outrage and indignation. Settler society brought domesticated farmed animals to this country 500 years ago, settler society disrupted and destroyed rich agricultural traditions that provided food security and have introduced mono cropping, GMO’s, mass deforestation and soil collapse. What authority then do settlers have to express outrage and shock at a traditional Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt?
I’ve gained heretic status in the animal advocacy movement for being critical of other animal advocates in this way – with many assuming a “colour blind” and post racial stance that no culture or tradition should excuse or legitimize any animal use. What ALL who express this reasoning fail to realize is that by simply not eating or wearing other animal species you are not removed from the same cultural practices of our dominant society – mass industrialization, mass resource extraction, species collapse and environmental destruction. Fracking, the Tar Sands, sludge facilities, sprawl – all of these industries are industries which the Haudenosaunee Confedracy Council opposes on the basis of destruction of habitat and wildlife. All of these industries have a disastrous effect on wildlife, and similarly the animal advocacy movement is near silent on all of them. How can this be?
Movements and their goals will reflect what is the easiest and most achievable goals of their members and similarly they will find most repugnant the things which are most foreign or avoidable for them. For the mainstream animal advocacy movement this means a movement obsessed with consumerism that ignores large scale environmental destruction and fixates on animal use of the “other.” If the goal is to increase the sale of vegan products to a white middle/upper class and privileged population – then this is a solid strategy. If the goal is to liberate other animal species from human society, or even to obtain some form of “rights” for other animal species, it is entirely useless. We need to demand better and be extremely critical of the near silence on issues of wilderness, wilderness defence, and environmental collapse – and even more critical and suspicious of whiteness, settler colonialism and how our focus so frequently seems to be on practices that our own power and privilege largely create and sustain.
In the case of Short Hills – if people want to a see an end to Traditional Deer Hunting they should put their focus in standing in solidarity with the Haudenosaunee as they oppose environmentally destructive policies and call for a return of traditional and treatied lands that would be capable of providing the Haudenosaunee with the resources, capacity and autonomy needed to return and rebuild their agricultural industry.
Tracing the root of the problem may be complex and confusing for many settler animal advocates, but at least it provides some kind of framework for being part of an actual solution.