By Beverly Sabourin and Peter Globensky
Those of you who may be deeply enamoured with hunting – the only “sport” where the competition does not know they are in the game, may wish to move on to the next piece.
This article addresses the disgraceful practice of bear-baiting and offers a view of the animal and this appalling “hunting” practice from both an Ojibwe and Western science perspective. In many traditional and intact Aboriginal cultures, human beings are but another species of creation equally entitled, like all other species, to share in the bounty of Mother Earth.
The Spirit of that creation abides in all that is upon the Earth – from the restless waves of Gichi-Gamiing to the wind-swayed plants, from your neighbour in your community, to the animal spirits who may act as both guardians and messengers.
That is why when sustenance was taken from that bounty be it plants or animals, a prayer of thanksgiving was offered. Like the eagle, the bear in Ojibwe culture has enjoyed a special distinction. Beverly’s grandfather who was considered a traditional medicine man and healer in his community always considered the bear to be a returning relation who had gone on to the spirit world. If the bear was encountered in nature, for instance during berry-picking forays, it was left undisturbed in its corner of the berry patch and while a wary eye was always maintained, both bear and berry-pickers carried on their harvesting each to their own pursuits.
This is not to romanticize the animal into the realm of New Age mysticism. Without question, the bear was often hunted for both its medicinal and sustenance properties. Thanks was offered and all or most parts of the animal from its claws symbolizing spiritual power to the grease it could produce were fully utilized. The connection to the bear was both spiritual and practical.
Now contrast this conceptual approach to the bear with that of the proponents of bear-baiting. To them the bear is a but a titillating and dangerous nuisance that should be eliminated – nothing more, nothing less. But it does beg the question: Why do they call it a spring “bear hunt” when these so-called “hunters” decked out in camos and fortified with Twinkies and hand-warmers sit in a tree blind baiting the unsuspecting animal to a slop pail of donuts, leftovers and other human food that they have so generously laid out for it? And we wonder why bears raid our garbage cans and become the nuisance animals we have trained them to be! And this is a sport? If it is, it is akin to shooting trout in a barrel. This is not hunting – it is lethargic entrapment and should be named and banned for what it is! It is a lazy cull not a “hunt.”
When the Government of Ontario initially outlawed the spring bear hunt, the Ministry of Natural Resources had prepared a report confirming that over 250 cubs had been orphaned because of this archaic practice.
When bears emerge from hibernation in mid-spring, lethargic, hungry and an easy target for “bear-baiters”, the cubs born to the mothers are barely 3 or 4 months old. Starving to death for lack of mother’s milk is an “externality” or collateral damage that organizations like the Northwest Ontario Sportsmen’s (sic) Alliance either do not take into account or don’t care about. And I doubt very much that these bear-baiters, in anticipation of killing the baited animal are going to stop long enough to determine if their “sport” prize is a male or a lactating female! Checking that out may result in a somewhat painful if not well-deserved smack! What is worse is fewer than 50 of every 100 of these “hunters”, when given the required license tag failed to fulfill the requirement of reporting on their entrapped catch! Conservation at its best indeed.
Perhaps if we stopped encroaching on their habitat, encouraging their taste for human food and garbage with slop pails, and continuously destroying their food sources, we would not have the dreaded bear encounters that these “baiters” and their lobbying organizations appear to fear so much.
How about bear meat for Christmas dinner Minister Mauro? Humbug!
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org