In British Columbia, for the first time in 125 years, members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation are able to hunt elk. Known as the People of the Inlet, the tribe is hunting a traditional animal on their traditional land, but with a modern twist.
As an outsider, it does feel slightly disheartening to know that after surviving the brink of extinction and, over many years, slowly rebuilding their population numbers, the elk are making the long-awaited trip home just to be hunted again. While cultural genocide is never okay, would it be worth reexamining tradition in modern times for the elk’s sake?
Hunting Elk to Near Extinction
However, before delving into the modern, let’s explore age-old hunting and what it did to the elk population. There’s a reason that it took over a century to hunt elk.
While the plight and near extinction of the bison are pretty well-known, not many know that a subspecies of elk, the Eastern elk, was slaughtered to extinction prior to the Civil War thanks to hunting. Before the arrival of Europeans, over 10 million elk roamed wild and free across the United States and Canada.
Why Are the Elk Hunted?
There isn’t one particular reason. There are spiritual and emotional reasons that are hard to understand, but they are easy to feel. As reported in Pique News Magazine, Randall Lewis, an environmental advisor for the Squamish Nation, explained, “To have them here in this area, we feel that our ancestors and the Great Spirit are happy to have them back.” Apparently, according to Lewis, the return of the elk also brings “exciting biomass” with it.
There are also ceremonial reasons with an emphasis on community identity. For example, the first elk shot during the elk hunt is presented to the elders for a community ceremony. It is also practical to hunt elk (e.g., for the animal’s meat). As the WDFW notes, there could also be commercial reasons.
Fortunately, it isn’t an elk hunting free-for-all. It is a very controlled practice. The hunters get to hunt through winning a lottery drawing. During this hunting season, only five elk can be shot.
The Hunting Generational Gap
Modern hunters of the Nation still associate the elk hunts as “deepening” their connection with their traditional lands. In turn, the modern hunters feel connected with their tribal ancestors.
However, this connection takes practice and wisdom. As reported in CBC, tribal elders noted the crystal clear “generational gap” between traditional and modern hunters.
For example, Chief Ernest George wasn’t too impressed with the modern hunters’ enthusiasm for the hunt. The modern hunters’ brouhaha, cheering and high-fiving isn’t how the chief was taught. As reported in CBC, Chief Ernest George recalls, “When we went hunting and got a deer, we thanked our ancestors for helping us, and we treated the animal with respect.”
Despite this type of generational hunting lapse, the aboriginal modern hunters are making an effort. Two cousins keep with tradition by burying the kill, giving it an offering of tobacco and saying a prayer of gratitude. As covered in the CBC, they won’t end the cheering because, “It’s just something you feel inside, and I can’t stop that.”
While many of the reasons for hunting elk are rooted in tradition, hunting the elk is a very modern affair.
The modern hunters of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation used camouflage. And if you need to hunt an elk, there’s an app for that. The modern hunters use an elk call Smartphone app to assist their hunting. Undoubtedly, the modern hunters will adopt future modern hunting trends, like modern bows.
The modern hunters expressed that the hunting tradition of The People of the Inlet almost ended with the elk. But, over many years, biologists and volunteers in elk recovery programs, like the Lower Mainland Roosevelt Elk Recovery Project, are slowly reintroducing the elk to their native habitats.
But are these modern hunters justified in claiming that they are being reintroduced to their traditions using modern hunting methods that are far removed from their ancestors ? It’s hard to say. Let’s just hope that the elk population gets the fighting chance to stay and the hunting-extinction cycle never repeats itself. One hundred twenty-five years is too long for a homecoming.
Photo Credit: Linda Tanner
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