After Facing Extinction, Elk Are Being Hunted Again For the First Time in 125 Years

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.”

Modern Hunters

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


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Mark Donners
Mark Donner3 years ago

Janice T. What a horrifically ignorant statement. Animals have taken care of their own populations for hundreds of millions of years. How long has the invasive species called human been on the earth destroying it and you arrogantly pronounce your right to commit mass murder. A blink of an eye, but the destruction this unimportant human species has caused is enormous. The disgusting human race is overpopulated because it uses unnatural technology but only to pillage and destroy. How would you like it if some alien race decided YOU should be culled (murdered) for that? The human race can't control its breeding like a virus and is an invasive species, a liability and a curse to planet earth.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

When a creature is too protected it can become over populated. Culling is necessary.

Virginia Abreu de Paula

Some traditions make no sense. Tradition to Kill? I disagree strongely.

Lawrence Travers
Lawrence Travers3 years ago

I'd like a lottery to hunt the THAT would be sport !

Lisa D.
Lisa D3 years ago

I strongly disagree with this decision.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn3 years ago

we can help these amazing anils and others like them
hoiw does free click to donate for endangered animals sound?????
go to petitions page and seach elizabeth brawn ti make it happen
********thank you************

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

See them die again?

Ewelina Grobelna
Ewelina Grobelna3 years ago

There NO are spiritual and emotional reasons to kill..........Sad how tradition is ALWAYS used for something pleasant for the one observing it....I'd like to kill elk that's on the brink of extinction, oh I can it's TRADITION...

Tradition is nothing but something born out of necessity (ppl killed to have food) or what they thought was necessity when tehy didn't know better (no rain, have to pray for rain, someone is withholding it, prayers don't help, lets offer smth, lets offer one life - sacrifice-for another to be born).

We don't kill ppl as sacrifice anymore because it doesn't work!!!

What is tradition of offering first kill to elders? It came not out of respect but from necessity to feed those who were no longer able to hunt themselves....only later there was some respect/traditon thing evolving....

There is no secret meaning, nithing life changing about tradition unless ppl decide to make it so (killing ppl or animals, maiming like traditional bulshit of female circumsicion....)

Thousands of years have passed, why get stuck on tradition to kill smth if you use mobiles, tv, GPS, internet and god knows what else...since when is THAT tradition??? it is not just convenient/pleasant to use it, same with hunting and all other traditions...

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins3 years ago

There is NO need to Hunt and Kill for food ! There are Grocery stores with Food available for us to eat ! We Live in Modern times !! So unless you Live on the Reservation,their is No Need to Kill Animals !! To Respect Animals after death and before death is a Good thing ! But to Hunt and Kill for the Fun of it or Sport is WRONG ! Every Animal deserves to Live without Fear,in Peace ! :( Just makes me Sad!