Just before the Covid-19 lockdown in British Columbia, Kwistunlwut Michelle Robinson and her family went on a hunt. The Klahoose First Nation declared the lockdown the day after they got back from the hunt.
The family went hunting at the Toba River. Canada’s First Nations don’t need a license to hunt but can harvest whatever they need whenever they want while on their land.
But, the family went out to hunt elk with licenses in tow. Robinson and her family, hunting in the small valley of the Toba River were hoping to come across an elk herd.
“We arrived at Toba and started setting up. When we went up on the little Toba River, all of a sudden, this herd of elk just stepped out. They stepped out into a small clearing, right on the river’s edge.”
Hunting for Two Elk
The family in total has two tags for elk. An overreaching community tag applies to everyone in the hunting party. Additionally, Robinson’s sister holds an elk tag. So, when the elk step out into the clearing, the family was ready.
However, the family knew that they were on a time limit as the approaching pandemic loomed.
“We slept, got up, and hunted again. We were on a time limit, and we all had to squeak the hunt in as I had to get back as soon as possible to do my part.”
Robinson’s son, at the time, was hunting on behalf of his aunt. So, he is allowed to harvest an elk from the herd. She talks about how amazing it is to take on their culture’s customs.
“He had a coming of age, and he’s had to learn how to hunt. He had to learn how to clean his own deer. My kids have always known how to skin and process animals.”
Two elk were all the family needed to get by with for a long time. Moreover, the time constraints spurred the family to make a move on the elk. Robinson says that the family only has “two days to get these two elk.”
Additionally, her eldest son taught her youngest how to hunt. So, when her oldest couldn’t join the hunt, the family recognized that it was an initiation of sorts for Robinson’s youngest boy, Royce. He talks about the moment he got to shoot an elk.
“The moment I see those elk step out,. I just thought, ‘I’d definitely be grateful to have one of those elk and be able to get this animal to provide for my family and my community.'”
Klahoose Community Relocating
The Toba River is a special place for the Klahoose people. Robinson and her family were the last Native people to live in Toba Inlet. But, the family was forced to relocate, and now their community lives on Cortes Island.
“And so my dad moved us further up. We cleared land, we lived off the land, we had to pick out every rock, it had to be immaculate. We hunted, lived in tents, and we had a little shelter we used for cooking under, and for processing food.”
Native people all over the world continue to live off of the land. They feel that it is their connection to the natural world. Living off the land is a skill passed down from generation to generation.
This year, in particular, Robinson feels that connecting with the land is the most important tradition their family has. Covid-19 has heightened their need for the land.
Hunting Is Important for First Nations People
When Robinson was young, her father told stories of hunting and fishing trips. One story she re-tells is about the Canadian government telling her great grandparents they weren’t allowed to hunt “without a license.”
“My great grandmother said, ‘Why should we have to pay for a license for a place that the Creator gave to us? We’ve been living here since time immemorial, since before we can remember, for thousands of years, and all of a sudden somebody comes and says you’re not allowed to fish, and you have to pay us a licensing fee to be able to feed your people.'”
In fact, one of her great, great grandmothers was actually fined for hunting without a license. Robinson says that she had to paddle a boat all the way to Vancouver – 150 miles, one way – to pay the fine.
Fighting to Continue to Hunt
But still, the right to hunt and fish for Native peoples is an ongoing battle. Robinson herself has made trips to Vancouver, defending the right for their settlement’s right to keep hunting.
“[The Government was] trying to dictate to us what we could and couldn’t do with our elk like we would go up there and wipe them out or something.”
She continues to explain why hunting elk and other animals are something that they are born to do. Without being able to hunt, Robinson feels they lose a big part of what makes their people special.
“We understand what our territory lines are. We know we overlap with our sister tribes, but we know the heart of our territory. And, we know there are animals on it and sea life. We never overfished or over hunted because we knew we had to keep providing for future generations.”
Winning the battle to continue to hunt is tough, but she says the Klahoose First Nation council continues to foster its relationship with local governments.
She and the Klahoose First Nation recently organized a firearms certification program. The program had fifteen First Nation members show up and learn how to use and keep their guns in better ways.
[H/T The Star]