Despite facing protesters at the gates, Haudenosaunee Confederacy hunters completed the first of two weekend deer harvests at Short Hills Provincial Park in St. Catharines.
The hunt, which took place Saturday and Sunday and will continue next weekend, has been controversial, raising the ire of animal and park activists. The park was closed while the hunt was carried out, and will be closed again next weekend.
The hunters used only archery equipment and took place daily from one half-hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset.
“Hunting is one of the traditional activities of First Nations which is recognized
through their Aboriginal and treaty rights,” said a statement fron the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which sanctioned and co-ordinated the event. “Local First Nation members (indicated) that they would like to exercise their asserted rights by conducting a deer harvest in Short Hills Provincial Park. Ontario will be permitting the Haudenosaunee to carry out a traditional deer hunt in the park to allow Aboriginal harvesters a safe harvest of deer for food.”
Ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said public safety is the primary concern here.
“We want to make sure there’s no one else in the park while the hunters are hunting,” she said.
Hunting is typically not permitted in provincial parks, though this is situation is different as it concerns Aboriginal treaty rights, Kowalski said.
“This is a traditional hunt by First Nations exercising their treaty rights,” she said.
She said the Haudenosaunee approached the ministry about hunting inside the park.
She said the park has a significant deer population.
“The deer population is quite high in that area, so there’s no worry about it being reduced to an unsustainable level,” said.
About 15-20 hunters entered the 1,800-acre park off of Eller Road in Thorold. All entrances were blocked to the public by Ontario Parks trucks.
Kowalski also noted that being a traditional hunt using only archery equipment, far fewer animals are likely to be killed than if rifles or shotguns were used.
“It requires a fair bit of skill, and you have to be fairly closed to the animals, so it tends to result in fewer animals being taken,” she said.
Three deer were taken on Saturday.
The confederacy is made up of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. In Canada, many are settled on the Six Nations of the Grand River territory and other reserves in Southern Ontario and Quebec. Many Haudenosaunee people also live off-reserve.
The Friends of Short Hills Park said the issue is beyond their sphere of responsibility.
“The harvest is between the MNR and the Aboriginal hunters,” said Chairwoman Anne Kubu. “The Friends of Short Hills does not deal with this level of management in the park. We build trails, produce guides, host events and try to raise awareness.
The park is open during the week.