OHSWEKEN — “If it was a family that was in poverty and needed meat, we would have given them a deer,” said Ron Thomas Jr., sadly, as he retold the story of finding out one of the deer he harvested had been stolen from his property last Wednesday morning.
Thomas, along with seven others, had spent the weekend hunting and when they finished they had three deer that Thomas was excited to share equally between the families that participated in the hunt — but now they only have two.
“These particular deer were going to be divided between the families of the eight hunters,” said Thomas. “We provide for our family and several other families and elders in the community that can’t hunt for themselves anymore. But more importantly, we provide the deer meat for our longhouse meetings.”
Thomas said that when he went to sleep Tuesday night around 10:30 p.m., all three deer were hanging in the large rack he had left them in to finishing draining, but when he got to work the next morning his family called and asked him why one was missing.
“I didn’t notice when I left for work in the morning because it was still dark out,” he said. “My wife called me at work and asked me if one of the other hunters had taken it, but I knew that they hadn’t.”
He realized then that it may have been stolen and went to investigate.
“The rope that the deer was attached to was obviously cut,” said Thomas. “We also found the deer hanger, a metal hanger that we use the put the legs of the deer in, down in the driveway near the roadway beside some tire tracks. So, maybe someone pulled up there with a wagon and put it in.”
Thomas filed a police report, but based on how little evidence there was he was told that there wasn’t much to pursue in terms of an investigation — but Thomas’ biggest concern isn’t seeing the criminals apprehended anyways.
“I’d like them to read this in the newspaper and learn from their mistake,” he said. “It’s really hurtful and disrespectful and I’ve never heard of such conduct in our community – especially amongst our hunting community.”
Indigenous hunters living on reserve and off reserve have been under fire by people who are unfamiliar with the laws established by treaty that validate the way the Haudenosaunee can hunt — hunters shouldn’t also now have to worry about thievery in their own front yards.
“It’s always been our job as the men to be providers for our family, and for our children and for our traditional needs because our ceremonies require deer meat,” said Thomas. “It’s within our treaty rights with our neighbouring communities who sometimes don’t understand that this is our hunting grounds and our ancestors have been doing it for hundreds of years and we continue to do the same.”
Thomas said that he has never heard of someone’s deer, or any harvested animal, being stolen like this before.
“We’ve had very large deer, even a black bear hanging in our tree before and no one harassed it or bothered it or anything,” he said. “If there’s people out there that need help — reach out and ask — people are always here to help, you don’t need to steal.”