Rare moose case shows need for respect of native cultures

Matt Markey.
Matt Markey.

When hunters harvested a rare white moose in eastern Canada last week, they illustrated that what you do sometimes might be legal, but at the same time it can also be wrong.

They did not break the wildlife laws of Nova Scotia, where the incident took place, but they did violate one of the most important doctrines that all hunters should follow. Through ignorance, they showed a lack of respect for the local culture, in this case the traditions of the indigenous Mi’kmaq people.

According to their history, the Mi’kmaq have been hunting and fishing in that part of North America for thousands of years. They trace their earliest settlements in the area as far back as shortly after the glaciers retreated across the land.

The Mi’kmaq have harvested countless moose over the centuries, and used the meat to nurture their people, and the hides to protect them from the harsh winter winds. But they do not believe in killing a white moose, since in their culture these extremely rare animals represent a spiritual connection with the tribe’s past.

Danny Paul, a hunter and a member of the Mi’kmaq nation, told the CBC that killing an animal viewed as sacred is believed to bring about bad luck or misfortune.

“We are not to harm them in any way, shape, or form, because they could be one of our ancestors coming to remind us of something significant that’s going to happen within our communities,” Paul said. “We know the significance and we’ve been teaching that to the non-native population for almost 500 years — about the importance that this and other white animals played in our lives.”

The Mi’kmaq had reportedly seen the white moose numerous times in the Cape Breton Highlands region in the extreme northeastern portion of Nova Scotia. The three hunters who harvested the moose in the Belle Cote mountain range are from Nova Scotia, but were unaware of the way tribal customs revered the animal.

“There was a lot of anger, frustration, confusion and bitterness over the lack of understanding of our culture,” Mi’kmaq chief Bob Gloade told media outlets in Canada.

Considerable harm was added when the hunters took the white moose to a taxidermist in a nearby town, and someone snapped photos of the rare animal and posted them on the Internet.

“How this was displayed was an insult to a lot of people,” Gloade said.

A social media firestorm soon followed as Facebook and Twitter lit up with comments scalding the hunting party for its lack of awareness and sensitivity regarding the culture of the aboriginal people of the area.

Hnatiuk’s Hunting & Fishing Ltd. in the Nova Scotia hamlet of Lantz posted the photos of the white moose, but shop owner Jim Hnatiuk said the hunters who harvested the animal were not aware of its meaning in the Mi’kmaq culture.

“They said that had they known the significance of this, they wouldn’t have shot the moose,” Hnatiuk told the AFP news service.

“The hunters were totally unaware of its significance. Everyone is a lot more knowledgeable now, and the hunters want to make amends and fix this as much as they can.”

To that end, the hunters apologized to the Mi’kmaq people and donated the hide from the “spirit” moose back to the tribe so that it can be used in a ritual that tribal officials said would honor the dead animal and ward off any curse.

One of the Mi’kmaq elders, Emmett Peters, will begin the lengthy four-day ceremony at a sweat lodge, and the hunters who killed the moose have been asked to attend.

Moose are generally brown in color. This white moose could either be an albino, a partial albino, or just possess a genetic trait for a rare white-color phase. The hunting of white moose is restricted in neighboring Newfoundland and Labrador, but not in Cape Breton, the only region of Nova Scotia open to moose hunting.

Wildlife biologists in the region believe the white moose shot in Cape Breton is leucistic and not albino. Peter MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resource said the white color in a leucistic is the result of a lack of the melanin pigment.

Nova Scotia DNR spokesman Bruce Nunn said he hopes a beneficial result will come from the death of the white moose.

“We are aware of the significance of the white moose to the Mi’kmaq and think that hunter education and awareness is key, so we are glad to hear that a positive discussion has taken place between the harvester and the Mi’kmaq,” Nunn told AFP.

HUNT CANCELLED: Due to the continuing federal government shutdown, the waterfowl hunts scheduled for Monday and Wednesday at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge have been cancelled, according to an email announcement. All federal lands are closed due to the shutdown.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.