Indigenous Peoples Solidarity: Supporting Treaty Rights: CPT at Short Hills Provincial Park

by Chuck Wright

A few years ago, the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations)  reinitiated a traditional harvest of white-tailed deer in Short Hills Provincial Park – their traditional territory – near St. Catharines, Ontario.  

The Haudenosaunee have the inherent right to hunt in their territories, which is recognized by the Nanfan Treaty and section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.  Also, according to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Short Hills Provincial Park has a carrying capacity of 40-50 white-tailed deer.  Last fall there were over 300 in the park.  This partially explains the MNR’s pointing to Treaty Rights in their accommodation of the Haudenosaunee bow hunters – a rare dynamic in the experience of CPT’s Indigenous partners.

However, the hunters encountered hostile opposition from some local residents – neighbouring landowners claimed the hunt was unsafe, hunters claimed it was unfair, and animal rights advocates claimed it was inhumane.  Hunters entering the park were met with racial slurs, jeering, and intimidation.

This past fall, the Haudenosaunee asked allies, including CPT, to provide a supportive presence at the park during the harvest.  In hopes of fostering dialogue and redirecting the hostility faced by the hunters, the team maintained a presence at the park entrance every day at dawn and dusk as the hunters entered and exited the forest.

Each day, 20-50 protestors jeered at the hunters, shoved signs at their vehicle windows, and shined flashlights to count the number of passengers inside.  They also barricaded the park entrance, halting incoming vehicles for 10 minutes each, which the police allowed.  Efforts to converse with the protestors were met with yelling, abusive language or a sign in the face.

So, in the mornings as the hunters waited patiently to enter their own territory, CPTers and local allies stood alongside their slow-moving vehicles with signs of support as a way to inhibit the intrusiveness of the protestors.  In the evenings, as the hunters exited the park past the hollering protestors, the team stood across the road holding placards and signs in support of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.  Over time, more and more local supporters joined them. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to know how helpful a presence like this really is.  So the team was gratified to reconnect with a local Indigenous supporter of the hunt at a recent panel on Treaty Rights.  She told the team that the hostility of previous years had kept her away from the park.  But this time, seeing the gathered supporters as she drove by gave her the encouragement she needed to stop and join the group of visible allies. 

Through actions such as this, CPT hopes to help create space for the defence and protection of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.

Chuck Wright, from Manitoba, Canada, joined CPT as a Reservist in 2013 and now serves full time with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity team.