The Mi’kmaq are bidding a solemn farewell to the sacred white moose gunned down earlier this month by trophy hunters, one of whom will attend the four-day ceremony that begins today.
Afterward the animal’s hide, which the hunters returned to the First Nation group for the ceremony, will be tanned and dedicated in honor of a respected Mi’kmaq leader and elder who died tragically in 2007.
The Mi’kmaq’s goal is to fend off the bad luck that inevitably follows the killing of such a rare, spiritual creature, and to educate hunters and others as to the animal’s significance. One white moose remains in the woods that the Mi’kmaq know about, and they want it to live. It is not illegal to hunt white moose.
The early-October killing of the moose in the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia, and the hunters’ subsequent bragging about it on social media sites, sparked an outpouring of outrage and shock across Turtle Island and beyond. The Mi'kmaq people deem the animal sacred, but non-indigenous people were horrified as well, especially once photos of the dead animal flanked by its grinning killers were posted on the website of Hnatiuk's Hunting & Fishing Ltd., a sport-hunting store. (The shop has taken down all photos, posts and comments related to the white moose.)
“I was quite upset. To tell you the truth, I cried once I’d seen the photo of the moose,” said Emmett Peters, a Mi'kmaq elder who lives in Afton, Nova Scotia, and will conduct the ceremony. Instead of feeling anger, Peters reached out to the hunters after Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation near Truro, Nova Scotia contacted the hunting shop.
“I wasn't mad. We all make mistakes,” Peters said. “We had a real good talk. They didn't know what it meant to the Mi'kmaq people.”
Instructed by a medicine person, Peters asked them to return the hide so a ceremony could be conducted to ward off the bad luck that the killing of a white-spirited animal will bring, and to honor the animal’s sacrifice.
“What I'm trying to do is stop the bad part,” said Peters. “I just want to stop anything bad that might be coming.”
The four-day pipe and sweatlodge ceremony starts on Thursday October 17 near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Jim Hnatiuk, owner of Hnatiuk's Hunting and Fishing Ltd., and one of the three hunters will also attend. As for the other two hunters, one is out of the province for work, while the other has no plans to attend.
“Everyone was really cooperative,” said Peters, referring to the provincial Department of Natural Resources, the hunters and Hnatiuk. Peters reassured the hunters there is nothing to be afraid of.
“It's going to be nice that everybody gets together, it will be a good closure on this,” Hnatiuk told Indian Country Today Media Network. “It [the hide] will be there for a couple of hours in the beginning, and then I'll be leaving a piece of the hide there for the four-day ceremony.”
The hide has been flushed, salted and dried in preparation for the traditional ceremony.
“After the ceremony I'll be shipping the hide off to a tannery,” said Hnatiuk. The New Brunswick tannery will turn the hide into leather and professionally clean it. He said the hunters will keep the head for mounting but that they had left the skull and smaller remains as an offering.
“The meat around the heart, the flesh around the heart was actually left on the mountain. The Mi'kmaq were happy with that,” Hnatiuk said.
After the hide has been returned the next step will be to honor Nora Bernard, a great Mi'kmaq leader who tragically passed away in December 2007. Bernard, of Millbrook First Nation, was a Mi'kmaq activist who fought for residential school survivors across Canada.
“What we're going to do is take something bad and turn it around into something good,” said Peters.
“She wasn't properly recognized and honored,” Peters said of Bernard’s hard work and dedication. “The hide will be to honor her and all of the residential school survivors, both alive and those that [have] passed on.”
Bernard’s youngest daughter will be the caretaker of the hide, which will be brought out for special occasions and ceremonies. The daughter, Janice Blenkhorn, will also attend Thursday’s ceremony. In November, Peters, along with the Mi'kmaq Friendship Centre in Halifax, will hold a bigger celebration to honor Bernard.
The moose was not protected by any laws, but Gloade hopes to change that. He is advocating for legislation that will protect albino moose in the province.
“We're trying to get something good out of all of this,” said Peters. “But also to educate all hunters. We’ve got to teach all sides about respectful hunting.”