(Protesters trying to stop a Mi’kmaw moose harvest confront Parks Canada wardens Sunday in the Cape Breton Highlands. Photo: Trina Roache/APTN)
APTN National News
CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS, NOVA SCOTIA — Tempers flared as close to 30 protesters confronted Mi’kmaw hunters who were taking part in a Parks Canada project to harvest moose in the Cape Breton Highlands.
“We don’t see it being productive to kill moose in our national park,” said local businessman Wesley Timmons.
“Productive?” asked Mi’kmaw hunter Fred Sylliboy. “The whole mountain is crown land. You’re the ones trespassing on our land.”
“I’m not against natives, buddy,” said one local guide who joined the protest. “I got lots of native friends. We want to hunt as much as you want to hunt. Let’s just make it fair. It’s not your fault, it’s the park, and you guys got the right to hunt here, right? I just want to get a share of it.”
A handful of armed park wardens were on hand but the RCMP were more than a half hour away.
The group demanded to speak with the Mi’kmaw hunters, to ask them “give up on this hunt.”
When a warden agreed to escort two of the protesters to meet with the Mi’kmaq, the rest of the group followed and a tense confrontation followed.
The project to harvest eleven moose in the park was initiated by Parks Canada and was four years in the making.[wooslider slideshow_speed=”5.0″ pause_on_hover=”true” slider_type=”attachments” limit=”6″]
During the confrontation, Parks Canada announced that it was suspending the harvest which sent the protesters away declaring victory.
Frustrated, the Mi’kmaw hunters were left to pack up camp.
“What’s happening now?” asked hunter Vernon Googoo. “The peace officer guy told them, ‘you got your way, you got your way, now you can go.’”
“That’s only for now,” answered Danny Paul, a Mi’kmaw hunter and traditionalist. “This isn’t over yet. They fail to realize that they’re in unceded territory to begin with. And that’s the hillbilly or bully mentality that they had.”
The Mi’kmaq felt the protesters lacked an understanding of both treaty rights, and of the science behind the reasons for the harvest. And questioned the group’s concern over the moose population.
The protesters held signs that read ‘Save the Moose,” and “Stop the Slaughter,” yet another read, “Let’s hunt together.”
“They have no comprehension about what we do and how we do it,” said Paul. “They refuse to hear how and why we hunt. All they’re looking at is the ability to fill their own freezers by poaching or bringing in people to guide and bring down and moose and they call that their livelihood.”
Hunting guide Dennis Day organized the protest. Day has grabbed headlines in recent weeks, voicing his opposition to the harvest.
“Some are protesting the hunt,” said Day. “And some protesting that they’re not involved.”
Day contends that the moose population in the highlands is declining and the harvest is unnecessary. He said it hasn’t impacted his business, “We just had to work harder for them.”
Day admits he doesn’t know much about the history of the treaties and why the Mi’kmaq have been given first access to the moose harvest in the park.
“No I don’t know the background to all that. But I would enjoy hunting with them and that’s the way it should be,” said Day. “This isn’t a racism thing. Like, I’m against Parks Canada. Not Clifford Paul, not for one second.”
Clifford Paul is the Moose Management Coordinator for the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources.
He said, there’s a misunderstanding of why the Mi’kmaq are harvesting moose in a national park.
“We know there’s a problem of hyper-abundance in the park, we know that the ecosystem is damaged,” said Paul. “We’re still willing to work together despite the thing you saw today. These heated voices? We’re still willing to work together.”
But he added, “The future of moose and the future of moose management jurisdiction lies with the Mi’kmaq people.”
In 2012, Parks Canada signed an agreement with the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. It provides that if there’s too much wildlife in a park, the Mi’kmaq have the first opportunity to harvest the animal.
This moose harvest is a first; a pilot project by Parks Canada to bring back the boreal forest. Too many moose throw the ecosystem out of balance.
“One third of the boreal forest in Cape Breton Park is severely degraded,” said Derek Quann, the park’s resource conservation manager. “Eleven per cent of the forest has transformed to grassland.”
Quann called the protest peaceful, but says charges are possible for entering a restricted area where the hunt was being carried out.
Mi’kmaw leaders, the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, and Parks Canada now will come back to the table to figure out next steps.
Though the moose harvest has been put on hold, it will happen, and next time with more security.
“No one expected what happened today,” said Clifford Paul. “We still want this to be a successful harvest.”
Allison Bernard hopes the Mi’kmaq don’t lose faith in the process.
He works for the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, a negotiating body for the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia.
Bernard has been involved with the Moose Working Group and helped organize this harvest.
“The people that came up here today didn’t care about breaching protocol or breaching park guidelines by going through the gates that they shouldn’t have gone through,” said Bernard. “They endangered a lot of people here, even their own, by coming in here and storming and almost causing a riot here.”
Bernard points out that while the local non-Mi’kmaq have the privilege of hunting and using the resources, the Mi’kmaq have an inherent right. “And nobody can take that away.”