Hunting, the Haudenosaunee way

In examining the ancient roles of the Haudenosaunee, both men and women are viewed as equal, but both are recognized as holding separate duties. Tying into the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, many know that the Sky Woman brought life to Turtle Island. Women today are believed to have a genetic connection to the Sky Woman, and still have the ability to bring life. This shaped the role of the women in the Haudenosaunee to be the agriculturalists, cultivators, nurturers and matriarchs.

On the other side of the coin, men are viewed as having strong voices and their physical being allows them to excel in anything physically challenging. This is derived from their natural inclination and ability to provide, protect and problem solve— making them adept Chiefs, warriors, constructors and hunters. While Haudenosaunee men may go to battle less frequently in our modern age, the need to provide, protect and problem solve continues. Many exercise prowess in Lacrosse, politics/activism, fishing and hunting.

In the not too distant past, fishing and hunting were main sources of not only protein, but also a source of useful materials used for clothing and tools. But today, with grocery stores, butcher shops, and restaurants, the relevancy of hunting for the Haudenosaunee has altered drastically, as it has changed from being an act of physical survival, to an act of preservation. In other words, hunting may still be done for survival purposes, but there is a much larger focus on sustaining a cultural practice, as well as adhering to a traditional diet like Healthy Roots. Healthy Roots is a 12 week health and wellness challenge which encourages the consumption of traditional Haudenosaunee foods, which includes wild meats such as deer, moose and rabbit. Those following the challenge rely solely on hunters in their families and social networks for these specific foods.

In the beliefs of the Haudenosaunee people, the connection to the earth is inherited from the creation story. In the story, people were not only formed from the flesh of the earth (clay), but were given a breath of life from Shonkwaia’ti:son (song-gwai-yah-deeh-so), the Creator of Our Bodies. This was the base construct of the understanding that people are a part of the earth, as well as physically connected to it by creation. However, not in the sense that people are made in the image of the Creator, but in the sense that the vegetation and wildlife are no better and no less than the people are.

This brought a deep respect for the animals. This respect was shown in honouring the lives of animals through offerings of tobacco after taking life, thankfulness in the Ohen:ton Karihwatekhwen, (oh-han-toh ga-leeh-wa-dek-kweh) the Opening Address, and by consuming or using the entire body of the animal. Teeth, bones, hooves, and hides were taken and used to make and decorate clothing or ceremonial regalia, while nearly every piece of meat was eaten or used for medicinal, or recreational purposes. Hunting was also used in rites of passage for a boy to enter manhood.

An old story depicting a young man’s first hunt explained that to be taught empathy and as a part of his rite of passage, the young man was asked by his father to track a deer for six months. During this process, the young man had to sustain himself, and was able to watch the buck he chose grow to maturity. Eventually the buck became so used to his presence, it wouldn’t flee upon seeing or hearing him. When it came time to kill the buck, the young man shed tears as he aimed his arrow. Shortly after killing the buck and taking the meat home, as he crunched the frozen grass under his moccasins, the young man’s sense of empathy was so heightened that he could hear each blade say “ow.”

This belief has continued on today that hunting does not revolve around violence, but rather, empathy and respect for life. As well, hunting is still believed to be a practice of ancestors and an exercise that allows a hunter to provide meat aligned with a traditional diet, and practice a cultural way of honouring the life taken.

Healthy Roots incorporates both the hunting and fishing roles of Haudenosaunee men, with the cultivating and agricultural roles of Haudenosaunee women to bring forth a core diet that is rooted in heritage. This diet allows participants to explore the aspects of a traditional Haudenosaunee diet, as well as enjoy the health benefits offered in each food.

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