THOROLD – Celeste Smith, like everyone else, has an identity.
She is part of the Haudenosaunee people and has a family whom she shares culture and customs with — yet recent protests of her people’s annual deer hunt worry her that the Haudenosaunee may be losing a part of their culture and identity.
The six-day, bow-only hunt takes place in Short Hills Provincial Park every November, where hunters harvest deer for food and teach the young men in their community valuable parts of their history.
“One of the things that we do, as part of our culture, is bring in our young men to learn the traditional roles and responsibilities in harvesting deer,” said Smith. “If we can’t teach that to our young men, we aren’t passing on [the values] our culture.”Approximately 25 community members from Thorold, Ont., and the surrounding area oppose the hunt and have put up a barricade to stall (restrict access into and out of the park) the hunters.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international human rights and violence-reduction agency, was invited to help the hunters, the settlers (non-natives) and Indigenous hunt supporters, like Smith, due to the unpredictable behaviour of the protestors.
“We’ve been invited to partner with the hunters because the protesting has been problematic in the past,” said Carrie Peters, a member of CPT.
“The Haudenosaunee have the treaty rights to hunt on this land so when protesting turns verbally and physically violent it’s not okay.”
Peters said that in previous years protestors flashed their flashlights into the faces of Haudenosaunee drivers and their passengers at a vehicle stall — which this year is being monitored by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Niagara Regional Police Department — while calling out derogatory statements.
Demonstrators declined an interview with the Two Row Times, but are expressing their disagreement with the hunt by displaying images of injured deer and signs that read “no respect”.
Jodielynn Harrison, an organizer of the Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt (HRH) group, said that the protestors are concerned with how they think deer are being hunted and how the hunt may affect the population of deer.
In an attempt to create an atmosphere of peace and solidarity surrounding the hunt, CPT and HRH group supporters have attempted to counter the protesting with a Peace Food Table — an experiment designed to transform relationships between Indigenous and Canadian people by having an open conversation about the disagreement.
The table is set up during mornings and evenings of the hunt, when the hunters are to be entering and leaving the park, where hot coffee and drinks are served for free and both vegan and non-vegan snack options are available.
“We’re not here to protest the protestors — our intention is to create an impromptu social [gathering]”, said Harrison.
“It’s for us, the police, the hunters and the protestors as well. There have been no [recent] incidents with the protestors but they have yet to break bread with us and share in our experiment, although the invitation is there.”