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Back You are here: Home Social Justice Animals On the ‘right to hunt’ by a Native American vegan

On the ‘right to hunt’ by a Native American vegan

birdEuropeans and immigrants believe that meat is a critical part of the human diet, but ancient Native Americans had a much more varied diet. Linda Fisher believes her American Indian ancestors would say it’s time to stop the suffering and the killing.

14 August 2011

Amid my large colorful paintings and hundreds of nonhuman animal photographs, hangs a small black-and white photograph—carefully placed in a shrine-like niche. This picture of Chief Seattle is the focus of my studio.

Being part Ojibway and Cherokee, I attend powwows and other Native American functions and proudly wear my inherited Ojibway beaded jewelry.

But as I become lost in the hypnotic and joyful sounds of drumming, I cannot ignore the uneasy feeling that consumes me as I glance around: Hundreds of leather goods, feathers, and trinkets made of nonhuman animals’ bodies—bear claws, cougar teeth, turtle shells, and whalebones—surround me, all in the name of the proud Indian and commercial trade.

I feel torn and saddened by what I see.

In modern Western culture, most of us, including the American Indian, no longer need to hunt to survive. However, we almost always associate the Indian—even today’s Indian—with wearing and using nonhuman animals’ hides, furs, and feathers.

I assure you, even though I avoid hides and furs and choose a vegan diet, my Indianness is critical to who I am.

The same is true of my mother, who is both an elder of our Ojibway tribe and a vegetarian. It is not our dark hair, dark eyes, or Indian facial features that speak for who we are, but something much deeper, something not visually apparent: our commitment to the teachings of our ancient Ojibway ancestors.

When I am uneasy, surrounded by furs and hides amid my own people, I reflect on the words of Chief Seattle. His wisdom inspires me, and makes me proud of my Indian heritage. Chief Seattle was alive in the 1700s and was considered one of the greatest Indian orators. A man of great wisdom, he was honored and respected not only by his own people, but also by many non-Indian people.

Mostly, he spoke about our ways, traditions, and spirituality; he offered a simple plea to respect Mother Earth and Her living beings.

The Indians of yesterday were true conservationists. They understood the inherent dangers of overtaxing the earth and her creatures. So much so, in fact, that no species would ever be hunted to scarcity or depletion, not even for religious purposes.

There was a time when Native Americans were considered heathens because they regarded the land as Mother. They believed that not only nonhuman animals but also rocks and trees had spirit. Indians noted the Earth’s messages when they made decisions. They took their direction from nature. They killed only to stay alive.

As early as the 1700s, historical records indicate that the white man’s pollution and dirty ways offended Indian people. But as centuries passed and Americans became more aware of their pollution, the Indian concept of conservation and protecting the environment gained legitimacy even among non-Indian people.

Native American philosophy, once considered heathen and barbaric, is now an accepted way of thinking; in fact, it is now the politically correct way of thinking.

Yet, when I hear that some of today’s Indians are slaughtering whales in the name of tradition, killing eagles for the sake of ceremony, or destroying any nonhuman animal for the sake of vanity and “tradition,” I wonder what has happened, what has changed.

In a world where most people have traded in guns for cameras, has Indian philosophy become unfashionable and politically incorrect among my own people? Can we maintain such traditions and consider ourselves to be ecologically minded?

At one time Mayans sacrificed young maidens each season, throwing them into deep pits to appease the gods. Tribes in the jungles of New Guinea and New Zealand have recently practiced cannibalism for spiritual and religious purposes.

When Europeans invaded those territories, such religious practices were outlawed. So what about those tribes’ right to retain tradition?

Long ago, an American Indian ceremonial drum ended up in a prestigious, non-Indian museum, where it was safely protected in a climate-controlled environment—until recently.

One day the original owners began to fight a vigorous legal battle to retrieve their drum. The Native tribe regained custody of their sacred possession, and I felt a sense of vindication for my people. The drum would be used once again for ceremonial and spiritual purposes.

On reflection, I realized that this drum—protected and carefully guarded for over a hundred years—was instrumental in educating millions of people about the beauty of an ancient culture.

This drum will no doubt offer a sense of spiritual awakening for the tribe, but what about their children’s children? How many more decades of pounding can this ancient drum withstand? In time, it will disintegrate, and a piece of history will be lost forever.

Reflecting on the recent renewal of the whale hunt by northern tribes, I can’t help but see the analogy. The whale is like the drum. Perhaps it is sometimes better to protect and cherish what we have left so that our children’s children can also appreciate and witness the splendor of their history.

The conventional, Hollywood depiction of the Native American diet and lifestyle is false. The Americas were a rich and fertile land, providing plentiful berries, vegetables, nuts, beans, squash, roots, fruits, corn, and rice. Most tribal people survived comfortably eating meat sparingly, while thriving on the cornucopia of the land.

European influence introduced Native people to commercial trade, and fire power, and buffalo began to be killed in great numbers. Only recently has meat become an important staple.

Europeans and immigrants believe that meat is a critical part of the human diet, but ancient Native Americans had a much more varied diet.

Europeans are carrying their meaty ways overseas to other lands, as well. In China, meat is now served much more heavily in restaurants where European/Americans eat, whereas locals have for centuries eaten a mostly vegan diet.

It now appears that this introduced diet of “heavy meat” is harming native cultures and causing health problems such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Again I reflect on words attributed to Chief Seattle:

The beasts are our brothers, and we kill only to stay alive. If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts happens to man, for we are all of one breath. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

As the new millennium approaches, it appears that the white man and the Indian are at last on the same course: Both white man and Indian pursue selfinterests without listening to Earth and other animals.

As I sit in front of my easel and a stark white canvas, I gaze into Chief Seattle’s eyes and wonder what wisdom he might share with us today. I believe that he would be pained by the death of millions of untold feathered spirits—for the sake of the pet trade, and for the sake of meat that we do not need.

And I also believe, if my Indian ancestors could comment on our present “right to hunt” in a world with so many people and so few nonhuman animals, that they, who listened to the land and killed only as was necessary, would not be wasteful.

I think my ancestors would tell us that it is time to stop the suffering and the killing.

Sister_SpeciesThis is an edited extract from 'Freeing Feathered Spirits' from Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice. Edited by Lisa Kemmerer. Copyright 2011 by Lisa Kemmerer. Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press. This material may not be published, reprinted, distributed or reposted online without the permission of the publisher.

Linda Fisher is professional artist and animal activist, who has dedicated much of her life to educating society about the plight of captive parrots. She was thrust into animal activism at the tender age of 11, on seeing a tiny parakeet suffering and dying in a department store.

Linda soon discovered that she had an uncanny ability to communicate with nonhuman animals and to feel their emotions, and she was consequently inspired to tell their stories through art. Linda’s sensitivity and remarkable connection to other animals has gained international recognition for her work.

Part Ojibway and Cherokee (and a tribal member of the Ojibway Nation), Linda lives with rescued animals, including parrots.

Visit Linda’s website for more information and to view her art.





+1 #8 Kenji 2016-08-02 01:47
I just made a "it's unnecessary and cruel to eat that caribou jerky" post to an indigenous FB friend (who I have never met) and was deluged with attacks.
Any advice or links to advice for non-indigenous people to communicate with indigenous people about veganism?
+1 #7 Stefania Delprete 2012-12-19 19:49
Thank you for this post: it's very interesting and informative.
I'm 28, I became vegan two years ago, before I was vegetarian for one or more, but since I was teen-ager I real love the Native American culture (I am from Italy, I discover this culture first from movie, then with books), I love its connection with the earth, its sense of community and respect.
Now, as a vegan, I really appreciate and respect this reading, now we understood that is not necessary eat animals for an healthy diet, that suffering is useless.
We have to put our attention on the earth issue and its critical condition, and take about healthy and generative human relationships too.
0 #6 Jon 2012-05-07 18:25
Actually, the difficulty with the Pleistocene expansion is, um, first, paleo-Indians were even blamed for the extinction of species that died out tens of thousands of years ago. The Aztlan rabbit, for instance. (To make matters worse, it appears humans were in the Americas longer than overkill-hypoth esizers would allow.) The difficulty is that hunter-gatherer s don't have that many children; nomads have to be able to move quickly, after all.

It's modeled largely on what happened in New Zealand and the Canaries. The Smithsonsian issued a debunking in their Encyclopedia of the American Indian.

But in this case, I would be more worried about the Chief Seattle speech; it was a speech from an Earth Day publication, but the speech itself was a forgery. (Seriously? Buffalo in the Pacific Northwest?) Also, animal rights activists have generally engaged in some, ah, not-so-civilize d behavior on Indian reservations. Look up the walleye or look up the Makah whale hunt. (Also, they only took one whale before giving it up due to...animal rights activists constantly harassing them. The animal rights people didn't technically break the law, if only because of Duro v. Reina.) I would point out Paul Watson was thrown out of Greenpeace, and he lied about being at Wounded Knee. Nobody there remembers him.

Oh, I miss CERTAIN.
+1 #5 Rio Montana 2012-02-28 18:46
Indeed there were instances of Native Americans not living harmoniously. Tens of thousands of years ago humans were likely forest foragers, and only started eating other animals out of desperation as the climate grew cold. Problem is, instead of returning to our natural foraging lives, we continued with that desperation diet & overpopulated. Native Americans, like many humans since, forgot their ancestral ways because the collective memory of this diet transition was forgotten. No matter, humans with compassion and a connection with the world have a deep internal calling to live gently on earth, and veganism is one important way we can start.
+2 #4 proud womon 2011-11-13 02:51
thabk you sister... i think it's time to sto the suffering of animals too ...
0 #3 John Millspaugh 2011-11-07 14:47

What a thoughtful and thought-provoki ng article.

Your points are subtle, powerful, and much needed.

Your voice is unique but influential.

Thank you for making this important contribution to a vast dialogue with enormous repercussions.
+1 #2 van Rooinek 2011-10-19 13:09
Europeans and immigrants believe that meat is a critical part of the human diet, but ancient Native Americans had a much more varied diet.

0 #1 van Rooinek 2011-10-19 13:04
The Indians of yesterday were true conservationist s. They understood the inherent dangers of overtaxing the earth and her creatures. So much so, in fact, that no species would ever be hunted to scarcity or depletion...

Long-Horned Bison -- (B. antiquus and B. latifrons)
Ground Sloths - several species
Norht American Equids (horse/zebra/as s) - several species
Short-Faced Bear -- 3 species
Sabretooth Cat
Scimitar Cat
American Lion
Dire Wolf
Navoceros deer
Capromyrex "antelope"
Giant peccary
North American Camels/llamas (several species)

Shall I go on?

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