Animal Advocacy, Or Assimilation?

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I’ve written lots and been critical of both the so-called “269 life” campaign as well as local opposition to the Traditional Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt. Both of these groups publicly claim that their goal is animal advocacy. Both of these groups are made up largely of people who come from dominant sectors of the population – (white, colonial) populations – and both are focused on individuals of an oppressed population (Palestinians and Onkwehon:we).

Both groups present similar narratives to the public in how they claim that their advocacy is not racist or offensive – in the case of 269life, which originated and is dominated by Israeli advocates, many of them had their foundational moment in protecting and rebuilding Palestinian chicken coops as anti-occupation activists in the West Bank. To them, this moment signalled a shift that allowed them to see the world through the suffering of only the other animal species involved – divorced entirely from humans –

There’s a picture from around that time which I used in one of my fanzines, of ISM (International Solidarity Movement) activists with harsh expressions visible through partially-masked faces, linking arms in order to prevent a small Palestinian battery-cage structure from being destroyed by an advancing Israeli hydraulic excavator. Can you imagine a more absurd, twisted, compartmentalized love of freedom or justice—or for that matter “solidarity”—than this?!? Boy am I glad I split that whole “Homo Sapiens Über Alles” scene… – Interview with Santiago Gomez 269Life Activist

Vocal Short Hills critic Daniel Wilson explains his opposition to the Short Hills hunt,

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.

In both instances these animal advocates position themselves as people who do not needlessly kill animals because they do not eat them. Both of these advocates are part of a highly technical and industrial society that presents an unimaginable threat to animal populations (both domestic and wild) – fare greater than the populations they speak out against. Both of these advocates gain privilege by their sheer existence on land which has been stolen – through force. Both cannot simply renounce this process by not eating animals.

If the Cardinal Sin for oppressed populations is going to be considered the eating of other animal species – do advocates then have a responsibility to make alternatives exist? In the case of both Palestinian populations and Onkwehon:we, centuries of agricultural practice that did not include animal use has been decimated to make way for the societies which myself, and these advocates, are part of. That physical land is now out of reach – buried under highways, used for grazing animals, built into development and sprawl, and used to grow food to feed the animals demanded for our society. Food insecurity was both created by these dominant societies and continues because the needs of the dominant society take precedence. How then can we make this the crux of any kind of advocacy?

In both instances the real issue is that these oppressed populations, and any oppressed population for that matter, is not “like us.” Palestinians are no longer deserving of solidarity because they are not vegan. Similarly, Onkwehon:we are backwards for not simply accessing vegan food at the supermarket. This advocacy is about shame and forced assimilation. It is no different than demanding that others speak your language, dress in your clothes, and live by your ideals. It is not interested in difference, examining privilege, or providing space for any kind of meaningful alternative outside of a demand for likeness. These populations have to be like us – even if being like us would make them even more environmentally destructive and lead to the deaths of more animal species.

That this kind of advocacy leaves the door wide open for right wing rhetoric is to be expected. The IDF and the Israeli Government are warming to this kind of animal advocacy. A message which positions Palestinians as backwards and calls into question of their use of land. On a local level, there has never been this kind of unanimity on any animal advocacy issue EVER in the region. Almost every single politician on every level in the region has been vocal in condemning the Traditional Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt. If the issue was factory farming, fracking, bitumen, mining, horse racing, captivity, etc. all of these politicians would exercise absolutely no political will – why then on this issue? Especially when the hunt itself is so obviously protected by legal treaties between the Haudenosauee and the Crown.

Advocates wrongly see this kind of support as some kind of vindication for, what would typically be seen as, extremist ideas. The issue is that the interest and popularity stems from the fact that this kind of advocacy allows for the dominant society to likewise absolve itself from any kind of complicity with animal use, and instead focus it back on indigenous populations whom the dominant society is in a perpetual state of war with.

I’ve been told that my criticisms are “cannibalizing the movement” and told that I am the “worst thing for animals since the leg hold trap.” What advocates fail to see is that it is their fringe position that is being exploited – by the same people who actually pose the greatest threat to other animal species. Every animal advocate – be they welfarist, rights based, or liberationists – should be able to see that the work that Onkwehon:we do to defend wilderness and protect wild species is grounds for solidarity. Every animal advocate should similarly be able to track what happens to land bases once they are fully destroyed by our dominant society. It’s absurd that the Israeli activists who abandoned their anti-occupation stances in favour of 269life could not think past the situation to see what comes after the bull dozer. That process is more dangerous than a food insecure population – a basic open air prison – relying on small scale animal use to survive.

Animal advocacy should never be cover for assimilationist and racist attitudes which wedge animal advocates and indigenous people fighting for their land base and for their survival. Advocates should keep their focus on the systems and structures which make animal use profitable – settler colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy – and the focus especially on those individuals who stand to profit the most. If animal advocacy demands assimilation and does not provide for the political and personal autonomy for difference – anything outside of vegan consumerism – then what we are pushing is not animal advocacy, but re-packaged colonialism.

When the right comes courting our gains are always washed in the loss of long term allies and further development and destruction. Can we please stop selling (animals) out?

@dylanxpowell / dylanjamespowell@gmail.com

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2 responses to “Animal Advocacy, Or Assimilation?

  1. Pingback: Shooting an elephant | bestialoblivion·

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