To aboriginal communities in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the white moose is a spirit animal and sacred. After learning that a white bull moose was shot dead in early October by three non-native hunters — who then posted about the dead moose on social media — members of the Mi’kmaq culture have been outraged.
Clifford Paul, moose management coordinator with the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, says that most Cape Breton residents whether native or non-native “know otherwise” than to kill the white bull “but this hunter for some reason decided to make the kill.”
The hunters say they did not know of the white moose’s significance and that they will hand over the hide for use in a traditional Mi’kmaq ceremony. White moose are rare but killing them is not illegal, provided that it is hunting season and a hunter has a license to hunt moose.
The white bull moose who was shot was just one that has been observed in the past six years in the region. Paul says he learned about the moose’s killing via the Facebook page of Hnatiuk’s Hunting & Fishing Ltd., in Lantz, Nova Scotia. The hunters had taken photos of the dead moose and themselves at a First Nations gas station before going to Hnatiuk’s.
Local resident Simon Denny makes clear that the mention of the killing of the moose on social media made him feel “sick to [his] stomach.” As Mi’kmaq elder and traditional hunter Danny Paul explains, the moose “could be one of our ancestors. We are to follow them and they will lead us to the herd, or lead us to medicines, or other teachings that we as people need.”
Paul details the outrage that many felt:
“We know the significance and we’ve been teaching that to the non-native population for almost 500 years — about the importance that this and other white animals played in our lives. We are not to harm them in any way, shape, or form because they could be one of our ancestors coming to remind us of something significant that’s going to happen within our communities.”
Clearly many still are ignorant about the sacredness of the white moose. Bob Gloade, chief of Millbrook First Nation, is working with Canada’s Department of Natural Resources and the hunting store to get in contact with those who shot the moose “to help educate them, as well as other hunters.” He also wants to have a community traditionalist perform a ceremony to bless the moose’s body and has offered to conduct a special ceremony to ward off bad luck and harm to the hunters.
Peter MacDonald, a large mammal biologist from the Department of Natural Resources, says that the moose was probably leucistic with a white pigmentation caused by a lack of the melanin pigment rather than albino (in which an animal lacks all pigments).
Last April, a rare white buffalo calf, Lightning Medicine Cloud, was found dead at the Lakota Ranch in Texas where it was raised. Buffalo Woman, his mother, was also found dead with him. Initial reports said that the calf had been slain and skinned; Arby Little Soldier, the calf’s owner, said he had evidence that another tribe had killed Lightning Medicine Cloud. Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said that both buffalo had died of bacterial disease, as they had “signs and symptoms” similar to blackleg.
While it’s not clear if the white buffalo calf and his mother died of natural causes or not, it is certain how the white bull moose in Cape Breton died. The Mi’kmaq believe that killing a white moose breaks an unwritten rule. Could the death of the bull moose be grounds for granting more protections to other sacred white moose?
Photo via chapleauportal/Flickr