I’ve written about 50 versions of this in my head. An original working title was called “Guest Ethics: Veganism in the Occupied Territories.” I liked it for a while but then realized that talking about developing a “guest ethic” for settlers would be a problem. I decided on something that continued to place veganism on Turtle Island as being on occupied territory, while also presenting anti-colonialism and animal liberation as two distinct and important streams of theory and praxis that could potentially have over lapping and intersecting interests.
Aside from thinking about this issue, I’ve been living my experience as a settler raised on the Haldimand Tract since 1984. Born and raised in Port Maitland, On – where the mouth of the Grand River meets Lake Erie – I was made aware of that from a young age by parents that stressed learning about land theft, justice, and the six mile wide tract on either side of the Grand River which was supposed to be Haudenosaunee Territory. My father kept contacts with folks at Six – Six Nations of the Grand River – passed down from his father who caught and sold fish to folks from the Reservation. Those relationships and ideas were not popular where I grew up, and hysteria and fantasy surrounded every side. My father, to this day, talks of fighting on the side of the Onkwehon:we in a revolutionary war. When the land reclamation at Douglas Creek Estates began over eight years – Kanonhstaton “The Protected Place” – my father was public in his support and our family company truck would later be one of the main parade trucks at the walk for “Peace, Respect and Friendship” to commemorate the reclamation. We were both proud.
The background is an attempt to give the reader some idea of the social position I am claiming. I was raised around animal use – my father is a fourth generation boat builder and fisherman. My aunt worked at the fish processing plant across the bay and some of my oldest memories of her cutting up fish and of one of my father’s best friends who owned the local slaughterhouse. All of this violence visited upon other animal species was normalized by all of the adults around me. It made me feel disgusting – I never ate fish and I didn’t like to eat food with bones or easily recognizable as animals – but my response was not considered “normal.” At the same time, I was raised around the idea that a massive genocide had occurred where I lived, that land and resources were stolen and I was supported to be public in my opposition to it. My father was kicked out of his high school and my mother graduate but did not go on to a post secondary institution. This wasn’t an academic setting where these issues where theoretical, they were experienced and understood as part of my social reality. I couldn’t divorce them, or divorce myself from them.
Later in life as I went to University, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and tried to involve myself in student activism these two things would re-emerge and begin to move together. One summer of sleeping on friends couches and being broke I’d realized that I’d gone a week without eating any meat. Immediately I was hit with a realization that for me eating other animals was a preference. I did it not because I had to, but because I took pleasure in it. That realization horrified me and disrupted all of the conflict I’d felt since a child. I’d witnessed animal slaughter from a young age, but also always been encouraged to rescue, care for and rehome animals and wildlife as well. Vegetarianism then become a reality for me with the idea of that I would go vegan once I actually knew how to cook. I lucked out and found a partner who shared a lot of my thoughts and goals and we worked through it together. Neither of us knew any vegans – but we made it work.
Around this same time a white rights/reverse racism activist by the name Gary McHale had been holding protests outside and on Kanonhstaton claiming that all levels of the Canadian Government and the police were actually discriminating against white settlers in the Caledonia community and not enforcing the law. I went to a Social Justice Forum at Brock University where the documentary “Six Miles Deep” was being screened. The documentary illustrates the decision making at the height of the reclamation and contrasts the matriarchal structure in contrast to settler fantasies and decision making in settler society. I contacted the director and got a screener copy and, with the help of another local youth Eric Smith, would go on to screen the film a handful of times on the Haldimand Tract – in Dunnville – and in the community I now live in of St. Catharines. Those screenings lead to answering support call outs from land defenders at Kanonhstaton to counter McHale demonstrations and over the last three years since I’ve been involved with organizing solidarity marches, court and legal support for land defenders at Six, and continued with outreach and solidarity organizing outside of the area.
Veganism has come up frequently over that time. In my own personal experiences I’ve never brought veganism or animal advocacy to solidarity organizing. If it came up in regular conversation, or just through the process of getting to know someone then that was fine, but I wasn’t stuffing my car with Vegan Outreach leaflets and heading down to Kanonhstaton. Surprising to some, the most resistance and disdain came from other settler solidarity organizers and activists and not any Haudenosaunee folks. Gene, a Tuscarora land defender and peace activist at Kanonhstaton controlled much of the kitchen because of his decades of work helping out and running soup kitchens in Toronto. Gene would go out of his way to make sure I was fed, or had food to eat. Experiences will always be different for others – but for me veganism has never once been a conflicting issue or source of conflict with folks at Six. I think the central reason for that is two things: I’ve never brought my advocacy there as something that others should recognize and strive for (even though some settler solidarity organizers and animal advocates have pressured me to) and I’ve also always recognized that the work the folks were doing at Six was part of defending wilderness and combatting sprawl and development – all things that in and of themselves were helping to defend and protect wild animal populations and the land. They didn’t have to do my activism to be helping other animals, or to warrant my concern and friendship.
Online is always a different story though. The online world complicates this issue with many people not having the benefit of face to face communication and not having any kind of relationship to be accountable to. In that, there is also no real definitive text or word on navigating these issues. The mainstream animal “rights” movement is simply not interested and as a result of a lot of that advocacy, Onkwehon:we are typically not interested either. At the heart though, there is a ton of common ground between those who wish to protect the land and species on it and those who wish to liberate other animal species from human society. I frequently get emails and messages from other animal advocates looking for help in navigating this issue, or messages from others wondering just exactly what my position is. It’s for that reason that I writing this.
Setting up to attempt to write something definitive is setting myself up for failure – but I did want to write this for those who are struggling to find an entry point, struggling to deal with the conflicting private concerns that can’t be addressed in the broader “animal rights” community and hopefully as a nudge to animal advocates of all stripes to recognize the work Onkwehon:we have been doing for centuries to advocate for other animal species and protect their habitats. This is not a critique against veganism, it is a call for veganism rooted in something broader and hopefully a resource for those who want to make that a reality.
Euro-Settler animal agriculture has existed on this continent for only around 500 years. It seems so hard to visualize, but over 500 years ago this land did not know domesticated captive species of cows, pigs or chickens. The entire continent was free of European agriculture. A food system that is dominated by the inefficiency of feeding large captive animal populations in order to later eat that animal – diverting food crops away from human populations and towards captive animals. This practice of agriculture takes a lot of land and it imposes a food system that is hierarchical and expansionist. You need an increasing amount of land to carry it out, and you need an increasing amount of wealth and control from the top in order to continue it.
Although animal agriculture is not the sole motivating factor for settler expansion – it plays a major role. The iconic American TV drama mini series based a novel – “Lonesome Dove” – shows this process as semi-retired Texas Rangers move cattle from Texas to Montana with the dream of settling these animals in an area barely touched by settler society. As they move the cattle north the cattle themselves are only ever backdrop to the story – the motivation for moving North. As they move North they encounter the villain – Blue Duck, an Onkwehon:we bandit that rapes women and kills children. Saving people from Blue Duck, the Rangers continue with their incursions into Sioux territories. One of the emotional highlights of the series is where Danny Glover’s character – a Black Ranger along with the group (how progressive and post racial!) is speared to death by a starving Onkwehon:we after mistaking his attempts to help and care for a blind Onkwehon:we baby (a child blind via starvation caused through the destruction of his people’s food sources by Settlers). The animals provide the motivation for the men to enter into this territory, and the actions of the Onkwehon:we populations serve as a the justification. They are either immoral, or incapable.
The mini series serves as a small snapshot to something which is now a much larger web. Animal agriculture dominates the use of more land in North America than all remaining reserve land combined – and one third of all land mass globally. 1/4 of all privately owned land in the United States is used to graze captive farm animals. Exhaustion of resources, soil and expansion has brought this same process South – something now further complicated by global capitalism and food markets. “King Soy” now reigns in the South – with rainforest environments and Onkwehon:we being decimated to make room for cattle grazing and/or soy production as feed for foreign (largely European) captive animal populations. Those displaced populations often find themselves involved in migratory labour - working in the North at fish processing plants or chicken and pig farm operations as migrant workers. Resistance to expansion in the South has always existed – but again invisible in the dominant animal advocacy community.
Factory farming – which generally gets more roundly denounced than animal agriculture as a whole – is actually the pinnacle of efficiency for this system as it uses the least amount of labour, land and resources for the most amount of animals. The environmental results of this kind of farming are disastrous and comparable to resource extraction industries of mining and fracking. The emissions from the industry as a whole dwarfs the entire transportation industry – leading many to place it between 1-3 as the top human made carbon emission industry in the world. The effects on animals in this system are beyond nightmarish as the scale combined with the practice excuses almost any kind of horror.
All of this should be of concern to more than just animal advocates. The implications for displacement, land theft, environmental destruction, exploitation and expansion are all clearly there. The issue, to me at least, is finding a coherent politic placing all of this in a context which does not make other specific oppression invisible. Animal advocacy is dominated by white people, and positions of power are dominated by white cisgender able bodied men – even though statistically there is typically a larger population of females involved than males and vegetarian and vegan population numbers are higher in black communities. An issue then that should have a broad focus gets presented through a very specific and normative lens and typically one that is very demanding – “You can’t be an environmentalist if you eat meat!” “You can’t be a feminist if you eat meat.” All of this outward directed energy allows for that same power base to excuse that known rapists and sexual predators hold positions of influence within the movement, and that as a whole the animal advocacy movement is largely uninterested in broader environmental struggles – let alone Onkhwehon:we land defense and reclamation or migrant justice – unless it can be used as some kind of advocacy leverage. Some base analogy or demand that again prioritizes its own position.*
In this environment, most of the messaging continues the tradition presented in Lonesome Dove. Other populations are either immoral (don’t care about violence against animals and need to be saved from it) or they are incapable (and need their autonomy removed from them and their choices restricted). Few animal advocates trace this history of Euro Settler expansion through animal agriculture, even fewer trace the broader implications of how we still use the same framing to advocate for animals.
If the struggle for animal liberation is to acknowledge anti-colonialism it will need to not only trace back this history to the first cow, pig and chicken who hit this land – but they will also need to be mindful of how their messaging, framing and the power dynamics will be seen as merely a continuation of the same line of thinking which first placed those animals here. Anti-colonialism in this instance is the intentional and conscious acknowledgement that although we might know – we do not know best. Euro-Settler animal agriculture has had a disastrous effect on this continent, reaching a political consensus on confronting that with a broad politic will largely mean Euro-Settler animal advocates demand more of their own community and provide more space for others to act to address the situation themselves in their own communities. It’s not enough to simply diagnose the problems ourselves and force our own solutions.
Violent Settlers and their Non Violent Politics
“When the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife—or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him.” – Frantz Fannon
There have been recent protests against traditional Haudenosaunee deer hunts in my area that have exposed much of the source of conflict around this issue. In each instance a section of the settler animal advocacy community has attempted to mobilize through local corporate media and through local settler governance – in every instance presenting themselves in the language of non-violence and as “peaceful” advocates. Many have raised concerns against this group and used this split to acknowledge differences between animal liberation and animal rights positions, as these groups are clearly illustrating that the State will only protect or advance the “rights” of other animal species when it is in the States interest to do so. In this case, the practice of the Haudenosaunee being on the land upsets the local population and the State because it allows them the practice of their traditions outside of the reservation and outside of the assimilationist food system they are supposed to accept. As an animal advocate with a history in this area of around 7 years, and who has studied this movement intensely, there are few examples of settler political consensus for respecting the “rights” of an animal species then what occurs when a settler population opposes a traditional Onkwehon:we use of animals. The scale or even specific practice are unimportant to these advocates or their state – what matters is that in the performance of protecting the species advocates and the state allow for themselves to be positioned as “non-violent” and Onkwehon:we as “backwards” or “violent.” The political capital for the state furthers the goal of encroachment and incursion by following the same logic – these populations are either immoral or incapable and we must step in. Settler colonialism and the settler states existence is then justified. Likewise, this framing makes the impact that the settler animal advocate community has on animal populations outside of just eating or wearing them invisible – the issue is framed as “eating or killing” and far removed from any understanding of how our highly technical and industrial corporate society destroys land bases and the animal species on them. Capitalism, sprawl, development, mining, fracking, pipelines, resource extraction and the violence necessary to them are all invisible – as long as you do not eat animals you are “peaceful” “compassionate” and “non violent.”
One extremely important and missing point to opposition to these local hunts is that the Haudenosaunee operated a rather rich and complex agricultural tradition prior to contact and destruction through settler expansion. The “Three Sisters” – corn, beans and squash were the traditional backbone of the Haudenosaunee diet with matriarchs controlling decision making and farming and with men infrequently hunting during scarcity. This turns the hunter-gatherer settler myth on its head – how did we save people from an agricultural system that was efficient, horizontal and needed minimal animal and land use and no captive animal populations? In response to settler expansion, land theft and encroachment, hunting rights were negotiated into treaties as the physical land to provide for an autonomous food system no longer existed – a recognition that without an autonomous food system and some land there was no hope for surviving assimilationist and genocidal policies of settler encroachment. Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Mcdonald is well known for his policies of intentionally starving Onknwehon:we onto reserves or into accepting policy. This was, and in large part still is, the fear.
In 2014, little has changed in this process as the Haudenosaunee at Six Nations of the Grand River currently face encroachment through GMO impact on traditional food crops on the reservation and attempts to secure food outside of settler food systems are still met with open demands from the settler community that the Haudenosaunee can “just go to the grocery store” if they need food.
It is in this context that the settler animal advocacy community, local nimby-ists, and settler hunters have joined together to denounce traditional deer hunts on crown and park land as “violent.” It is their encroachment into their communities which is violent – not the centuries of land theft, genocide and the continued attempts to destroy any food security or system outside of the settler state’s control.
This is just one example that has been played out for decades since the development of the “animal rights” movement in North America. Onkwehon:we coast to coast to coast will repeat similar stories in how framing of traditional use of just about any animal – seals, minks, polar bears, salmon, etc. is all seen and presented through this lens in settler society. It is their practice which is backwards and violent, it is their desire to exist “outside of” that needs to be broken and “animal rights” activists have almost always been willing to facilitate the state in this aim. This discussion itself is one largely repeated from the Makah Whale hunt of the mid-90’s – a similar conflict which divided the animal liberation community with active animal liberationist and Pascua Yaqui Rod Coronado breaking with his Sea Shepherd roots and supporting the autonomy of the Makah community to come to their own conclusions free from outside settler animal advocate pressure.
The long view illustrates how that is the correct position. No matter how many times the settler animal advocacy community bows to the State to aid in the repression of Onkwehon:we populations over specific animal use or practices – the gains are rarely long term and the consequences usually are. The open hostility that some animal advocates encounter in Onkwehon:we spaces have a source.
Most importantly, framing the issues in this way and siding with state incursion, repression and encroachment allows for the State to offer crumbs to animal advocates while continuing on with settler animal use industries that are somehow normalized in their massive scale and effect. To my knowledge the first traditional Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt in 2013 at Short Hills Provincial Park killed 3 to 5 deer. Of the 3 or so slaughterhouses in the Niagara Region there has never once been a demonstration – most animal advocates in the area could not name or locate them – even though they’d kill that many cows, pigs, chickens or lambs in under ten minutes, five to six days a week.
What advocates are inadvertently doing is normalizing the violence visited upon animals within settler society while making invisible the work Onkwehon:we have been doing to protect other animals species and the land. This kind of work ensures that animal advocacy on this continent continues to be isolated, reliant on the relationships with the state to leverage other marginalized populations for small gains, and disconnected from a broader politic that instead rightly positions the state as “violent” and “backwards.” It justifies the settler state and genocide. This has negative consequences for all marginalized and oppressed populations within the settler state as well as for the vast majority of animals within the Euro-Settler animal agriculture system and the wild populations of animals still left on the continent. Unless animal liberationist can resist this framing and instead position the (corporate) state as the one source of “violence” and “backwardnesss” there can be no animal liberation politic that embraces anti-colonialism.
Aside from charting the history of animal use on this continent and resisting the framing of the dominant “animal rights” movement, animal liberationists have to root their practice in supporting Onkhweon:we land defenders on the land as well as the process of returning and reclaiming land.
The practice of reclaiming, returning and re-occupying land is a necessary practice in ensuring any kind of threat to Euro-Settler animal agriculture and any kind of return to food security outside of the dominant settler food system. Perhaps hardest to visualize, this means that if liberating animals from human society is of serious concern to you then you should openly and publicly be supporting Onkwehon:we led resistance to uranium mining, pipelines, road, sprawl, and development. This means working to ensure that the actions taken to resist Euro-Settler animal agriculture and to advocate for animals are no longer made invisible through a framing that prioritizes what people eat and what can be gained through relationships with the state. Other animal species and the land have always been spoken of at every reclamation site, blockade and demonstration I have been at. Vegans themselves on the other hand – have typically not been present. That line needs to be broken.
The returning of stolen land opens the possibility for Onkwehon:we to access food security and food systems on their own. In some cases this may mean a return to agricultural traditions prior to contact. In others it may mean a continued use of animals with a focus on protecting the land base around them – air, water, soil – and the continuation of that species. This is a tough pill to swallow for animal advocates who, while happy to acritically aid state repression and settler colonialism for small gains, demand a strict observance of veganism before choosing other coalition partners. In the end, this is the leap of faith advocates must take in order to move forward with any kind of anti-colonial politic tied to animal liberation. There can be no control, no pressure, no demand. For a population used to an opposite relationship with Onkwehon:we this is a barrier. However, in the end it is the right and just choice. Outside of building a broader politic, confronting the massive scale Euro-Settler animal agriculture and the land theft and genocide that occurred here which policies, effects and resistance to all continues – these positions are consistent with anyone who claims to care about justice. In the end, it will be the differences between these positions – Onkwehon:we on the land and animal liberationists within their own communities – which would provide the strongest possible front against animal use on this continent. That is what the state fears and that is what we should be working towards.
Rod Coronado Concludes
Rod Coronado: By first, not being so fucking judgmental of people who eat animals. Long before there was an animal rights movement, there were indigenous peoples defending the earth and her animals with their lives. And they still are! Just because they eat meat doesn’t make them the enemy. Until we learn tolerance we will continue to be disenfranchised. It doesn’t mean WE have to be like them, but there’s such beauty in diverse worldviews that all hold nature and animals on the same level as us. It is the oppositions worst nightmare for us all to be unified against their policies that destroy the same world we all love.
*Unfortunately, since the late 80’s the animal advocacy movement has professionalized with resources being dedicated to celebrity/shock tactic driven public advocacy – all of which ensures resources remain with larger non profits instead of the grassroots and that the focus remains isolated, while the message becomes chaotic. Attention seeking, vertical, corporate advocacy structures implement the same “growth for growths” sake models that are incapable of any broad analysis or tactics. Animal liberationists must build their own capacity in this environment.
**The use of Turtle Island and Onkwehon:we (Mohawk mean “Original People”) – both Haudenosaunee words – is not to signify pan-Indianism but to honour the territory I am on. I recognize these terms are not interchangeable and do not signify a broad shared experience.
*** I could write 4,000 more words on how the broader left should address these issues but in keeping with the theme that demands should be made within movements it was not included or made a focus. Still, I must mention that I fundamentally oppose settler hunting outside of necessity and do believe that all settlers should use whatever capacity they have to use the least amount of land and resources possible. At best we are welcome guests – who and what we eat should reflect that. All advocacy should be focused on “punching up” and not shaming or judging people – but there needs to be a recognition that we can do much better than our current situation. Also fuck radical folks co-opting and culturally appropriating Onkwehon:we practice around animal use to shield and excuse their own behaviours.
I am always open to edits and criticism on this as well as for any offers to co-write, reproduce, speak or publish on this topic. Contact below.
@dylanxpowell / firstname.lastname@example.org