For the past week, Iroquoia Heights Conservation Area has been closed to the public, after reports that there were hunters in the area. Large warning signs were posted on every trail in, signs with the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) logo on the bottom, urging people to call the police if they see a hunter. Today, when we walked through the area, we were pleased to find that these signs had inspired a response. The police number was crossed out, and beside it was written, “Hunting is a First Nations issue, not a policing issue”.
In the past couple of years, there have been several hunting scares around Iroquoia Heights. In all of them, the hunters were Haudenosaunee from Six Nations who were exercising their rights under the Nanfan Treaty to hunt and gather in this area. Each incident has been met with an over-dramatic response from the Spec, quoting neighbours who were so frightened of native people acting on their treaty rights that they couldn’t even go out to walk their dogs.
This time, however, rather than just issuing a statement like in the past, the HCA has taken the unusual step of closing Iroquoia Heights. This strange move that deserves some analysis.
Although even councillor McHattie paid lip service to the validity of the treaty rights, encouraging that police be called on First Nations hunters plays into the racist and self-victimizing narrative that some residents of the area have been putting forward. And more broadly, it is part of a pattern of criminalizing First Nations people who exercise their treaty rights.
In the past twenty years, both Canada and Southern Ontario have seen several high-profile situations where the demands of First Nations people for their land and sovereignty have been viewed as law enforcement issues rather than treaty issues. At the reclamation site in Brantford, police were used instead of negotiation to deal with a conflict that is fundamentally a dispute over boundaries between nations.
Words like ‘trespassing’, ‘unlawlful assembly’, or even ‘illegal hunting’ for that matter, confuse and trivialize the issues at stake. Describing treaty issues in these terms is a deliberate tactic used by both governments and racist right-wing organizers alike to delegitimize the longstanding and important issues raised by the Haudenosaunee and other First Nations.
Luckily, a forest is not like a bank or a grocery store – you can’t close it. A forest is a rich complexity of interacting creatures, plants, water, and also humans who spend time there and build relationships with the land. Claiming to control a forest by closing it outright is simply ridiculous, and as we saw today, many people did not give into the fear-mongering.
The Spectator reported today that Iroquoia Heights will reopen tomorrow around mid-day, provided no Indigenous people are seen acting on their treaty rights in the area before then. If you haven’t spent time there in a while, we encourage you to go in the early morning to watch deer step through the autumn leaves.
This post is part of the KLR News and Commentary Series.