We somehow still believe that there is an abundance of wildlife on this planet. The facts show us that this is not the case. Still, all of us, including my people right across this country, tend to think that somehow it is our inherent right to harvest huge amounts of birds, animals and fish even though many of these creatures are thinning out in numbers.
My dad once told me stories of flocks of geese and ducks up on the James Bay coast that were so huge that they blocked out the sun. That was 50 or 60 years ago. Elders up the coast also described huge herds of caribou on the land and many moose. Somehow we convinced ourselves that it would be that way forever and that we all had the right to harvest the animals and birds because we had always done that. It was part of our culture as First Nations people and also a cultural pursuit of many non-Native people.
When governments and their agencies enact regulations concerning the harvesting of these creatures of the land, everybody complained and many of us chose not to believe that a lot of the animals and birds were diminishing in numbers. We just wanted things to be the same forever.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, experts claim that humans are causing a thousand times higher rate of extinction of species than once occurred naturally without the involvement of human beings. Even though we raise billions of domesticated creatures, such as cattle, pigs and chickens, we still want to head out on to the land and hunt. To do so in a respectful way with the awareness that the moose, caribou, polar bears and all of the big game and birds on this planet are dropping in numbers is still an acceptable idea. However, to think that we have the right to take as many creatures of the land as part of our harvesting past is not acceptable.
Today the world contains a billion sheep, a billion pigs, one-and-a-half billion cattle and 25 billion chickens. Combine that with the fact that there are seven billion people on the planet and that we have created huge tracts of land devoted to agriculture, forestry and all kinds of other resource-development projects, the result is that we are having a huge impact on all wild creatures on Earth.
Recently, the world was shocked when a dentist from Minnesota was part of a hunting party that lured Cecil the lion out of a protective park area so that this beautiful creature could be killed, decapitated and shown off as a trophy. Trophy hunting still takes place in Africa and many parts of Asia because there are wealthy hunters willing to pay the price. The hunts are rarely sporting events as the animals are more often than not merely set up to be shot. All this even though we know that most of the big game animals of Africa and Asia are threatened species.
Most of our planet’s large creatures went extinct soon after the coming of man. It is estimated that when humans first arrived in North America between 14,000 and 16,000 years ago, 34 out of 47 types of large wild mammals went extinct. In South America with the arrival of humans that number was estimated to be 50 out of 60 type of large mammals. Some of these included large cats, giant ground sloths, camels, horses, giant rodents and mammoths. In addition, thousands of smaller species that relied on these larger animals also disappeared.
If we want future generations to still be able to hunt or at the very least to see animals and birds in the wild, we have to change our attitude. It could very well be that by the end of this century we will only be able to see these animals and birds in zoos or special parks. I understand, more than most, the thrill of the hunt. I have lived for long stretches on the land, traveled the waterways of the far north and hunted from the time I was a child. However, I also understand that as First Nation people we have a very fresh and special relationship with the animals and the land.
A hundred years ago my people depended on the land and her creatures for survival and we were very aware of our responsibility to care for the land, and to respect and honour the lives of any creature we harvested for food, clothing or tools. At this point, all of us must realize where we are in the history of this planet and that means we have to make better choices when it comes to understanding our role in the extinction of the creatures of our Mother Earth.