Animal Rights and Aboriginal Rights

AuthorWill Kymlicka & Sue Donaldson
 
Animal Rights and Aboriginal Rights
Will Kymlicka & Sue Donaldson
Animal advocates in Canada are stymied by the relationship between ani-
mal rights (AR) and Aboriginal rights, and have failed to f‌ind a way of
discussing the relationship that is morally coherent and politically viable.
A recent illustration of the challenge took place in St. Catharines, Ontario,
where the Haudenosaunee Council claimed the right to hunt deer in Short
Hills Provincial Park — a park that had prohibited all hunting for decades.
The Haudenosaunee argued that the park falls within their traditional ter-
ritory, and that a treaty (the Albany Deed of ), which they were now
reasserting, guarantees their right to hunt in this territory. Local animal
advocacy groups were deeply split. Niagara Action for Animals protested
the hunt, whereas the Niagara Animal Defense League defended it in the
name of respecting “the autonomy and sovereignty” of Aboriginal peoples
— stating that “honouring treaties means doing so not just when conven-
ient or when it f‌its within our moral framework” — and criticized the pro-
testing animal advocacy groups as racist and colonialist.
Deed from the Five Nations to the King of their Beaver Hunting Ground ( July )
in Iroquois Indians: A Documentary History, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois
(Reel ), –, online: [Albany Deed of ].
Niagara Animal Defense League, “Statement on Haudenosaunee Hunt at Short
Hills” ( January ), online:
160     
Given the political quagmire that accompanies attempts to address
Aboriginal practices, many animal advocates in Canada simply avoid the
problem, taking no explicit stand on whether or how Aboriginal practi-
ces should be legally regulated, or even the extent to which such practices
should be subject to moral scrutiny. We call this the strategy of avoid-
ance, and will discuss the many good reasons for adopting it. Yet we will
also argue that it is unstable, and that progress on AR requires a strategy
of engagement.
We will begin by sketching the account of AR that we have developed
elsewhere, and how it radically diers from the current status of animals
in Canadian law. We then note the overlap between our account and
traditional Indigenous views of human–animal relations, including the
shared opposition to the instrumentalist and property-based assump-
tions that underlie the current legal framework. On many dimensions,
recent AR theories are much closer to Indigenous perspectives than to the
instrumentalist perspective that def‌ines contemporary Anglo-American
law. Yet important dierences do exist, and some traditional Indigenous
hunting, f‌ishing, trapping, sealing, and whaling practices are unlikely to
pass the strict test that AR theory sets for the justif‌ied killing of sentient
beings. We then consider how animal advocates in Canada try to avoid
this issue, oen by according some form of legal exemption for Aborig-
inal practices. We will argue that this strategy fails to do justice to either
AR convictions or to Indigenous convictions about ethical human-animal
relations. Aer all, Aboriginal peoples do not simply believe that they
have a legal right to hunt deer in Short Hills Provincial Park, but also
consider that this practice is an ethical one, rooted in a fully adequate
conception of the ethics of human-animal relations. We believe that any
attempt to address the ARAboriginal rights nexus will be doomed to re-
criminations and misunderstandings — and to alternating perceptions
of paternalism or racism — until we engage these ethical convictions.
We will outline a strategy of engagement that seeks to unpack the under-
lying assumptions about the ethics of human-animal relationships and to
identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and suggest directions for
constructive dialogue.

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