Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today about things that are really dear to my heart.
I grew up on a farm in central Alberta. I've hunted and fished since I was big enough to carry a BB gun and harass the sparrows and starlings in the yard. For the past 30 years, I've made my living in the wildlife industry as a professional guide and now as an outfitter. I've also dedicated many hours and dollars to conservation in one form or another, belonging to different organizations and going to meetings.
Recently, we spent quite a bit of time working with the Government of the Northwest Territories on a stakeholders Wildlife Act advisory group, or SWAAG, developing, drafting and tweaking the new Wildlife Act. It's finally done, after about 10 years of trying, and I think it is in large part due to the foresight of the minister to establish SWAAG and take to heart the concerns of the third party interests in the Northwest Territories.
I think we all understand and know of the deep-rooted relationship between hunting and fishing and the aboriginal cultures in the north. But in the Northwest Territories, there really isn't a big difference between NWT aboriginals and resident hunters. Hunting, trapping, and fishing have been part of northern culture from day one. It really was the trapping industry that opened up the doors to the north.
In most aboriginal cultures, hunting and taking the life of an animal is seen as a spiritual event. In many of the cultures it's a part of the right of passage into manhood. If you are not proven proficient as a hunter you can't provide for your family, and you are not allowed to marry and enter into the state of manhood. There is a deep-rooted aboriginal connection to the land, to the animals that live on the land, and to hunting and fishing.
I would like to challenge you a little bit today. I've spent pretty much my whole life in the mountains. As I said, I have dedicated countless hours and lots of finances to conservation and the preservation of habitat. I believe I have the same connection the aboriginals do. Why would it be any different? When you live on the land I believe you become part of it and you still have that same connection.
I had a good friend who was a fellow outfitter in British Columbia, he was a member of the Tahltan first nation and his name was Fletcher Day. He's gone now, but I remember one time he said to me, “Harold you have every bit as much right to hunt and fish in this country as I do. You just haven't fought hard enough for that right.”
I've thought about that many times and I wish it were true. I wish my right to hunt and fish were entrenched in our constitution; it isn't, but I wish it were. I really do believe that it is something that has been part of how Canada came to be Canada. Hunting, fishing, and trapping were part of what made Canada what it is today. Why isn't it my right as it is an aboriginal's right?
My good friend Ken Hall, who has sat with me on the SWAAG committee in Yellowknife for the past couple of years, wrote, “The cultural significance of hunting to my family is as important as it is to any other culture in the NWT, including aboriginal people. We hunt for the same reasons: for food; to practice traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation; to teach our children respect for and appreciation of the land; to learn about and to commune with nature.”
Ken is not an aboriginal person. He is a third-generation Northwest Territories resident, and he feels very strongly that it is every bit as important to him culturally and socially to be able to hunt and fish as it is to anybody else in the Northwest Territories.
I think it's really hard for those of you who have never hunted, who have never taken the life of an animal and seen the life blood flowing on the ground, to understand the spiritual connection you have with that animal, to understand that it is really an emotional thing that happens. As an outfitter, you'd be amazed how many of the hunters tear up and cry when they are successful in taking an animal.
People think of hunters as being macho guys who are out there to murder and slay, but for the most part I find the opposite is true. Most hunters get very emotional when they take an animal. I believe that somehow there's a spiritual connection, which is maybe not even understood, when you take the life of an animal and it provides for you. That is what hunting originally was, to provide for the needs of feeding your family. I think that connection is the reason that hunters have always taken the lead, and probably always will, when it comes to conservation.
I'm sure that by now all of you have heard about and are familiar with the North American conservation model, the success story it has been, and I think given the opportunity will continue to be. Hunters and fishermen, and even to some extent trappers, have taken the lead historically when it comes to conservation. Had it not been for this North American conservation movement, initiated and driven by hunters, we wouldn't have the wildlife that we do today in North America.
This probably doesn't pertain as much to the very far north as it does to the settled areas of Canada, but I think it would be very true everywhere. If hunters hadn't led that charge, we wouldn't have the wildlife that we do today. Because of that, I think it's crucial that we try to somehow entrench the rights of Canadians who choose to hunt and fish. I do believe they will continue to be the driving force who make sure we have wildlife, and habitat for that wildlife, for many generations to come.
I think this is a lesson we can learn well from the Kenyan example. Some of you may be familiar with Kenya. In 1977, all hunting was banned in Kenya. We won't mention names, but it was basically a bribe by a large British corporation to the government of the time, offering them money in exchange for outlawing hunting.
Today those large species of wildlife in Kenya have seen as much as an 80% decline in numbers. There are 70% to 80% of those large wildlife populations gone, which putting a stop to hunting was supposed to preserve. Most of the experts in Kenya today feel that within 20 years those large species will be extinct. Those large mammal populations will be completely extinct. There is a large movement developing in Kenya today to reinstitute hunting to try to save the wildlife of Kenya.
That's the story of the North American model. That's the story of the history of hunters when it comes to conserving wildlife. Hunters are the rubber on the road when it comes to conserving our wildlife, and I think that's true in many cases around the world. I really do believe that a carefully regulated, well-managed, sustainable harvest of wildlife is one of the best tools we have at our disposal for the conservation of wildlife and ensuring that we have both habitat and wildlife for many generations to come.
There are many challenges. I've been involved in wildlife management at several different levels, and it is very complex. One of the biggest obstacles that I see is the urbanization of our society and the disconnect between the urban masses and the land and wildlife. How do people who grew up in a city, who have never had any connection to the land, have any knowledge of wildlife, of conservation, of management? Yet with the way that we govern wildlife in most of Canada today, they have an equal say in the management of that wildlife. I see that disconnect as being problematic.
Everybody is really passionate about wildlife, whether it's me, as a hunter or whether it's an animal rights activist. There's a lot of passion, and it's hard to separate the passion from the science. Today in Canada, most wildlife management is done by government bureaucracies. I think most of us know that sometimes government bureaucracies aren't the best way to do things. They can get very weighted down and become ineffective. I can tell you lots of stories about the inefficiencies of wildlife management.
However, we have opportunities to maybe have a look at that. In the Northwest Territories, under the land claims process, co-management boards were set up. Wildlife management is a shared responsibility between these co-management boards and government, between science and traditional knowledge. I think that's something we are going to have to look at in this country to balance out the polarization that happens between animal rights and activists—