Cecil the lion outrage provokes skepticism in northern hunters

Guiding sport hunters gives northerners a chance to use knowledge and skills developed over a lifetime and, literally, put meat on the table. 'They're animals, not human beings,' says Pitseolak Alainga of Iqaluit.

In the North, sport hunting helps support a way of life and put meat on the table

Cecil the lion was shot in Zimbabwe by an American dentist. Northern hunters aren't surprised by the outrage, but they aren't saddened by Cecil's death either. 'Native people don't name our animals. A polar bear, for instance, is a polar bear. I look at lions the same way.' (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit/Associated Press)

Some northern hunters are shaking their heads over the global outrage against sport hunting sparked by the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe, while others say killing animals for sport is an abuse of nature.

Earlier this month, a wealthy Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer, killed a well-known lion named Cecil. The dentist's guides are accused of using bait to lure it out of a park where no hunting is allowed.

For days, people have been lighting up Twitter and Facebook, raging against Palmer and, more broadly, sport hunting.

"I'm not surprised," said Kenny Hudson, a Métis hunter from Fort Smith, N.W.T. "People who live in cities make a pretty big deal out of anything that brings harm to animals. 

"They walk by people on the street that really need help, and don't even give those people a second thought. You know, something happens to an animal, they're all upset."

Hudson is hoping to start up a sport hunting business of his own, focusing on bear hunts on the Slave River. He says businesses based in the South are already outfitting hunts in the Northwest Territories, and that local people should be taking advantage of the demand.

But a former chief and respected elder who lives in Fort Fitzgerald says there's no justification for killing animals for sport.

"This kind of sport hunting is the highest level of abuse of nature," says Francois Paulette, referring to the killing of the lion in Zimbabwe.

Paulette says sport-hunting conflicts with his traditional Dene values. He says there is no word in his native language — Chipewyan — for sport hunting.

"If they're not going to take the meat home, then why bring them in?" he says. "If they're not going to use the meat, then don't bother hunting."

Nunavut MLA active African safari hunter

Though many northern aboriginal people are hunters, almost all do it for food, rather than sport.

Nunavut MLA Joe Savikataaq does both. He's been on several big game hunts in Africa, for cape buffalo, elephants and other game.

"It's just mostly the experience and the fun," says Savikataaq, who has taken his sons along on safaris. "We enjoy hunting there. It doesn't matter if we get the biggest and best animal, we just go for the experience. It's quite a different experience hunting over there."

Savikataaq says when he goes hunting in Africa, he gets to keep only the skins and the skulls of the animals he kills. But he says all of the meat is used, given by arrangement to people in nearby communities.

"None of the meat is wasted," he says.

Big game, high prices

In Iqaluit, Nunavut, Pitseolak Alainga has worked as a big-game hunting guide. He, along with his brother and uncle, teach traditional winter survival skills, such as igloo building, to students.

Pitseolak Alainga of Iqaluit says guiding sports hunters is a good way to put food on the table, and maintain a way of life. (CBC)
"I'm trying to teach kids to just catch what the family needs and not to overhunt," said Alainga.

Though it's not part of traditional Inuit culture, Alainga said he has nothing against hunting for sport. For him, it's a way to make an income. 

"Especially living in a big community that's growing really fast, and the price of everything is going higher and higher, and it's harder and harder to find jobs that are good-paying. Sometimes it's better to go on a sport hunt than to just do a hunt by ourselves." 

Alainga said he, and many Inuit, do not regard animals in the same way as some of the people outraged by the killing of Cecil the lion.

"They're animals, not human beings," he said. "Native people don't name our animals. A polar bear, for instance, is a polar bear. I look at lions the same way. They kill people. Polar bears do the same thing."

John Lucas Sr. has been guiding polar bear and muskox hunts around Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., for decades.

Lucas says guiding hunts gives him a chance to use knowledge and skills he has developed his whole life to earn money and, literally, put meat on the table.

"[Sport hunters] are not very interested in the meat, so we take it for ourselves," he says. Grocery prices there are three to five times higher in Sachs Harbour than in southern Canada, and jobs are scarce. 

"Up here it's kind of different for me," said Lucas. "I have to go out and work for a living, unlike sitting behind a desk and bringing in an income, that sort of thing.

"Up here it's completely different."