Our world is in trouble in a lot of ways and anyone, whether an individual or a government, who denies this is practicing the head in the sand technique. Overfishing has caused the closing of fisheries in numerous countries, caribou herds are threatened, whales are on the endangered list , rhinos and tigers and other large land mammals are in danger of extinction. The list of endangered or near extinct fauna is extensive. Not all are hunted by humans for food or trophyism but the ones that are hunted/farmed/fished for food run into more conflict.
There are the people who make their livelihoods/their jobs from hunting a particular land or marine animal. When they are told they can’t do this anymore they are rightfully upset, scared of a future that is uncertain at best. Then there are native peoples of the lands, whether they’re Native Americans/First Nations, Danes, Laplanders, or Fiji Islanders (to name a few), they all have centuries of traditions and customs.
In many pre-industrial societies, food was a focus of stability. Towns and cities were often built on fertile land near water sources. Herds of animals were domesticated or hunted near villages. Customs, rituals and spiritual rites took place around food and the creatures that sustained the life of a people. These were so ingrained that you cannot separate an animal from the ritual. Initiatory rites as well as rituals for sustenance and good hunting were common.
But time is time, and everything changes through time. The land shifts, erodes and buckles. Species ebb and flow with the changing seasons and shift in climates, and from natural disasters. Although a species can hunt another to extinction, especially if it’s transplanted from its natural habitat, it’s not common. Only homo sapiens have been so resilient, adaptive and creative to live anywhere and hunt what they need. In most ecosystems if the predator overhunts the prey, the predators flourish but then there is not enough prey and the predators die back, maintaining a natural balance.
Only the human species has been able to circumvent this natural balance, bringing technology to bear on the environment to the point of detriment for every living thing including people. And so we have species all over the world that are endangered, protected or becoming extinct and yes, there are many species becoming memories only. Then we have traditional cultures saying, “We have always done this. It’s part of our traditions. It’s you people who disturbed the balance, not us.”
Governments are trying to protect dwindling resources so there will be something to hunt in the future and have placed restrictions and moratoria on different species. Sometimes only a certain quota is allowed to be taken and then there is more conflict. As in the missing salmon this year on the Pacific coast. There was nothing to fish. If anyone, Native or other fisherman wanted to take the fish because it was their right, if would diminish a chance for that species to survive. And now we have Innu hunters shooting caribou in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The thing is, it is their right to do so and have some protection based on ancestral tradition. That’s fine, but conservation officials say that a particular type of caribou, the Red Wine, have moved in amongst the other more prolific herd. There is supposed to be less than 100 of the Red Wine caribou left and they’re protected. The interesting thing is that five years ago Grand Chief Penashue said about hunters in the protected preserver, “The hunt in the Red Wine caribou range was not just an illegal protest, it was completely inconsistent with Innu values. … Putting a threatened caribou herd at further risk can never be justified on the basis of aboriginal rights.”
Yet today this same chief is supporting the hunting of the caribou because statistically fewer would be hit compared to the George River herd. Seems those ancestral Innu values have changed. So it’s only good to assert traditional rights when it suits you and because the ministry or the government aren’t working with you, it’s now all right to hunt endangered species?
What is not right is asserting traditional and cultural rights over species that are endangered. To do so is pure stupidity because there will be nothing to fight over or use in traditional ways in a very near future. This is the biggest problem when various cultures try to assert their rights because it’s always been done this way. And where do we draw the timeline if someone says, we’ve done it this way for a hundred years, a thousand years, or whatever. Just because one’s ancestors did it doesn’t mean we can continue to do it, whatever it may be. The world has changed and denying that does no good.
I support the right of people to keep their traditions (that’s all those unique cultures all over the world) but not at the expense of losing endangered species or in subjugating other people. Our ancestors did all sorts of things, including using outhouses, killing and beating people and eating foods we wouldn’t touch. They lived without central heating, they sewed everything by hand and only the richest (or the military) might have gone more than a hundred miles from their local village. Life was constant hard work. We cannot always say, because my people once did it I have the right to do it now. We have to be reasonable and holding a species as hostage to get your way is the same as saying well you won’t listen to me so I’ll just beat this kid until I get my way. They’re both innocent (caribou or child) and some healthy reasoning should come in to play as opposed to punishing/speeding the extinction of the species. In this case the Innu should be ashamed of themselves because even killing one more of an endangered herd lessens its chance for viability and recovery.