Indigenous vs. Animal Rights: When Two Good Causes Can’t Get Along

If you haven’t been paying attention, Canada is going through a major period of reconciliation with its bloody, colonial past. For a long time there was a myth that while the United States went to war with and murdered its First Peoples (see Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the United States), the young proto-Canadian government formed treaties with the new nation’s original residents.

Non-Indigenous Canadians are now disabusing themselves of that story as the horrors of residential schools, Indian agents and the reserve system, the ’60s Scoop of Indigenous children by chlid welfare authorities, and other genocidal policy efforts have come to light. Canadian media is also now covering current issues like the persistent and massive educational funding gap, the ongoing boil water advisories in many Indigenous communities, and the United Nation’s description of today’s reserves as a third-world country within a first-world country.

It’s not so different from post-war Germany coming to terms with the Holocaust, or South Africa’s own reconciliation efforts after apartheid. This is a time of tremendous cultural and spiritual revival and historical reckoning. But if you want to be a positive force in the effort of reconciliation and decolonization, traditional Indigenous hunting rights might put you in an awkward spot if it doesn’t mesh with your stance on animal rights. Consider this piece from the New York Times, about young Indigenous people reviving their culture through food, including smoked moose and seal meat.

The seal hunt was big news a few years ago, with Indigenous rights and animal rights activists at a major impasse to reconcile their worldviews. It’s like the pithy little joke I heard years ago, just a little too soon to be turned into a social media meme, “What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?” It’s an irreverent take on a progressive activist’s dilemma: when two important personal causes don’t get along. But until the seal hunt, that seemed like a non-event. Most good causes go well together.

You can battle exploitative multinationals that don’t pay their farmers or factory workers a fair wage and simultaneously be a defender of the environment by cutting back on unnecessary long-distance shipping. You can work to reduce your carbon footprint knowing that this can save species as well as low-income families in developing countries most at risk from climate effects. Is it, however, impossible to protect animal rights without perpetuating an oppressive post-colonial society?

Not at all. I think it comes down to understanding what you do and do not support, the why of that, and, very much so, the how. The new leader of one of Manitoba’s two major political parties is Indigenous (yay!) and possibly misogynist (not so much). An individual of any ethnicity is accountable for their own actions, and it’s fine to not support Wab Kinew without making it a racial thing. Misogyny is absolutely not an Indigenous cultural value, and there are many other amazing leaders in the same locality as Kinew, including Robert Falcon-Oulette, Kevin Chief, and Sheila North Wilson. You can support some Indigenous leaders and not others without being a racist or colonial oppressor.

Hunting wild game, on the other hand, is a major part of many Indigenous cultures in North American, none of which are traditionally vegetarian. But unnecessary animal cruelty is not. The seal meat that one chef in the NYT article cooks with is actually provided by a company, not hunted by Inuit with clubs, which some protesters say is proof that this is not about traditional culture and they have every right to protest it. This is completely backwards. This is proof positive that there is no reason to target certain Indigenous chefs specifically. If the seal meat is no more cruel than other kinds of meat, you can’t give non-Indigenous chefs using the same meat from the same company not to mention non-Indigenous chefs on every corner of every city serving other kinds of meat a pass. Indigenous people do not deserve to be treated as the go-to scapegoat for meat-eating.

And that this is based on a nebulous connection between the kind of meat they serve and what some unrelated Indigenous groups do to hunt the same kind of meat? Yeah, that’s racist. It’s not racist to disagree with traditional hunting culture–that’s fair and comes down to your own values. But targeting a member of a marginalized group and painting all members of a plurality of Indigenous nations with the brush of what you’ve seen in a few members of one particular nation is not fair or okay.

So, if your stance on animal rights is such that all human societies should transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet, that’s great. There are a lot of reasons this would benefit society, not only morally but economically and environmentally. Just don’t single out Indigenous people for all the criticism and blame of meat-producing industries while ignoring factory farms and non-Indigenous meat-eaters. Do that and the conflict is really one of your own making.

Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

72 comments

MilliSiteProbs M
MilliSiteProbs M17 hours ago

continued

Perhaps if the Prime Minister actually spent any time in Canada instead of playing Mr. Dress UP on world tours, or quit giving millions to terrorists (10.5 million to one person), open arms welcome back to Canada from those traitors that deserted Canada and joined ISIS and participated in their atrocities, or donations to Aga, Clinton, etc. Foundations, etc. etc., the government could well afford to provide clean water, proper housing, road access to communities, not only for the Indigenous, but for the numerous rural areas that have no running water, sewage systems, or the basic necessities Mr. Trudeau’s family would “just die” if they did not have.

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MilliSiteProbs M
MilliSiteProbs M17 hours ago

Don't confuse the Commercial Seal hunt that happens every March on the East Coast of Canada with the seals taken by the Inuit or Indigenous groups in the extreme Northern parts of Canada (Northwest Territories), there is no comparison between the two. The Inuit use all parts of the seal they hunt, and while I may not like it, I can accept that is their way of life. However, the seal hunt, which I have been against forever, picketed, protested, petitioned, etc. since the 1970s is a whole different story. Those that participate in the East Coast Seal Hunt are hired and paid by corporations with the supported by the Canadian Government. They bludgeon baby seals and skin them for their pelts, leaving the carcasses on the ice. They do not use them for food, and they do not even ensure they are dead before the skin them. Totally no similarity at all! Trudeau claimed last year it was "good for the economy" and he would not withdraw the government support. Over fishing has caused a decline in the number of fish but as is typical of the government, they blame the seals, thus the Government supports the barbaric seal hunt like the morons they are.
Perhaps if the Prime Minister actually spent any time in Canada instead of playing Mr. Dress UP on world tours, or quit giving millions to terrorists (10.5 million to one person), open arms welcome back to Canada from those traitors that deserted Canada and joined ISIS and participated in their

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Angela J
Angela J12 days ago

Thanks

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D S
D S13 days ago

Thanks :D

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David C
David C16 days ago

thanks, and I, too, think Kalliope says it well

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Teresa W
Teresa W20 days ago

well said, Kalliope

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Teresa W
Teresa W20 days ago

thank you

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Joanna P
Joanna P23 days ago

With 7.4 billion humans and development spreading into every corner of the globe, there is no such thing anymore as animal rights. They are marginalized, exploited and slaughtered. Indigenous people will end up educated and living in homes with water, electricity, TV, mobiles and cars.

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Leo C
Leo C24 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Janis K
Janis K24 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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