One of my summer projects is to learn more about public attitudes towards indigenous rights in British Columbia. I am also looking for current examples of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with indigenous hunting by non-native people (Figure 2, in which foraging is confused with pastoralism, for example). Conveniently, events surrounding a blockade in Tahltan territory last fall have provided me with a tremendous amount of data on this topic. Last September, Tahltan people blocked the only road into the Klappan watershed to non-native, resident hunters. The decision to blockade stemmed from a fear that the moose populations were declining too rapidly because of over-hunting. It was also related to the fact that there is an open season on moose in the Klappan; this is one of a very few areas in British Columbia where moose hunting is not regulated by limited entry licences.
CBC.ca carried two news stories about the blockade and both stories generated a large number of comments by readers. The first article, titled “Natives blockade moose hunters” (Sept 24, 2009) generated 150 comments before commenting was closed. Eighty-nine comments were made on the second article, “First Nations warn of more blockades” (Oct 11, 2009). The comments are more interesting than the articles themselves because they reveal attitudes towards indigenous peoples and their hunting. Examples of two comments from the September 24 article are clipped (Figures 2 & 4). The fact that CBC.ca allows others to give a comment ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ adds another layer of interpretable data, or at least a way of gauging the overall attitude of the readers and discussion participants. (You don’t need to comment to ‘rate’ the comment with a thumb up or down.)
Just as interesting as the public discussions on the CBC’s website are the discussions about the blockades that erupted on chat boards within the HuntingBC.ca forum. There, six different threads offered hunters – native and non-native – the chance to talk about the blockades, moose hunting and, indirectly, aboriginal hunting rights. Over 800 comments were made on these boards (eg. Figure 3). One of the boards offers a new thread around planning for the fall 2010 moose hunt.
After capturing permanent copies of the articles and comments using Firefox’s Scrapbook and Fireshot add-ons, I’ve begun the process of coding the articles and comments using Atlas.ti software. A few generalities are emerging. The articles themselves identify the concerns of First Nations people around the over-hunting of moose and the open season. The articles cite the need for meat for sustenance and fear of the extinction of moose as the two main reasons for protesting the open hunt. The perception of some is that the fate of the moose will mirror that of the pacific salmon. In most cases, the comments of indigenous participants aren’t obviously marked. There are a number of comments scattered throughout the discussions which implore people to either keep on topic of sharing information about the blockades or to be respectful of participants in the discussion. Likewise, some people request that posters show respect to indigenous people in general (Figure 4).
Many different issues are raised by people who oppose the blockades. To be sure, it is not clear if these commenters are indigenous people or not although sometimes ancestry can be assumed (Figure 2). The issues include: the need for meat for sustenance by non-native hunters and their families, the illegality of the blockade, concern that resident hunters are as native as the natives, and a perception of unequal application of the law in favour of native hunters (Figure 3). Some are direct about their feelings citing the notion that indigenous people were conquered and therefore do not have special rights (Figure 2), that the government and/or the RCMP should be more involved in settling the dispute, and that indigenous people should stop receiving government monies in exchange for the moose.
I don’t know yet where the analysis is leading. I have dozens more comments to code and categorize. Still, I value the openness of the discussion – as promoted by the possibility of anonymity? – for frank opinions. They give me concrete examples of the variety of opinions around indigenous rights and BC history for sharing with students or referring to in my writings.
To be sure, identifying anything about the commenters is problematic. The advantage of perceived honestly as promoted by anonymous forums is tempered by my inability to say much about the backgrounds of the participants. Sure, many details are apparent in lengthy comments. Presumably, the HuntingBC.ca participants represent a community of hunters. But, identifying information is thin.
Can anyone point me to writing about who comments anonymously on the internet and why? Are comments like these representative of the feelings of demonstrable communities like hunters? Or, is it best to assume that these comments represent fringe opinions? Any suggestions are welcome.
Appendix: HuntingBC.ca Discussions
The following is a list of forums discussing hunting in the Klappan on HuntingBC.ca:
‘Trouble on the Klappan‘ re letter from Northwest Fish and Wildlife Conservation Association to the BC Ministry of the Environment (letter is also here) (approx 500 comments)
‘Klappan Road Closure‘ (information about the road closure) (approx 100 comments)
‘Klappan Road Update‘ (largely information about the road closure) (approx 40 comments)
‘Spatzizi Provincial Park open discussion‘ (approx 40 comments)
‘Guide Wants Residents Out‘ (approx 90 comments)
‘Any New Info on First Nations Blockades?‘ (April 2010 – planning for fall 2010) (120+ comments)
Appendix: Related News Stories
Tahltan in Standoff with Province over Hunting Rules (Oct 13, 2009, theTyee.ca)
Moose population stats a shot in the dark: MLA (Oct 15, 2009, The Hook Blog; theTyee.ca)
Tahltan Agree to Meet with Minister to Resolve Wildlife Management Issues (Oct 15, 2009, Tahltan Central Council Press Release)