Review of Calverly, Who Controls the Hunt?

Ojibway Camp, Spider Islands, Lake Huron, by Paul Kane (1845). Library and Archives Canada, David Ives Bushnell collection of Canadiana, C-114460.

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David Calverley, Who Controls the Hunt? First Nations, Treaty Rights, and Wildlife Conservation in Ontario, 1783-1939. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018. 224 pgs, ISBN 9780774831345.

Reviewed by Darcy Ingram.


My son loves fishing. As a result, I spend a lot of time negotiating the various regulations that entails. During one particularly busy year I found myself in possession by mid-summer of a licence to fish in Ontario, another for Quebec, a third for British Columbia, and yet another for the National Parks, where this activity falls under federal jurisdiction. Between that and related questions concerning land tenure, species and water restrictions, a typical day’s fishing seems always to begin with the same question: who’s in charge here?

That question, in a much more far-reaching manner, forms the basis of David Calverley’s discussion of indigenous dispossession in Who Controls the Hunt? The product of intense engagement with (in particular) a wide range of legal, policy, and related bureaucratic matter produced by the Ontario and federal governments, it addresses the transformation in northern Ontario of Anishinaabeg access to game through implementation of an increasingly complex and confusing array of laws, policies, and practices. The book’s six chapters are organized around a series of stakeholders, and each advances forward successively in time. Chapter One offers readers the lay of the land from the perspectives of the Anishinaabeg and the Crown from the 1780s to the establishment of the Robinson Treaties north of Lakes Superior and Huron in 1850. From there, Chapter Two explores the evolution of Ontario’s game laws and their impact on the Anishinaabeg during the nineteenth century, after which the study moves into greater detail, covering interactions between the Anishinaabeg, the Ontario Game Commission, and the Federal Department of Indian Affairs at the turn of the century (Chapter Three); the roles of the Hudson’s Bay Company and of Indian Affairs Deputy Superintendent General Duncan Campbell Scott (Chapters Four and Five); and finally local pressures on what was by the 1920s and 1930s a legal and political landscape unimaginable at the signing of the Robinson Treaties (Chapter Six).

Ojibway Camp, Spider Islands, Lake Huron, by Paul Kane (1845). Library and Archives Canada, David Ives Bushnell collection of Canadiana, C-114460.

At the centre of the narrative is the mutual understanding among all parties at the signing of those treaties that the Anishinaabeg retained the right to hunt and trap. From that basic observation, Calverley outlines the transformation in which the Ontario government in particular took a keen and inflexible interest in establishing a tourist and sport-oriented wildlife conservation system that was actively hostile to those rights. Alongside the provincial government as it negotiated a hard line against the Anishinaabeg, other stakeholders took up positions that inevitably involved interpreting those rights, some in ways roughly parallel to the province, others in opposition, and all motivated by their own interests.

Canadian Northern Ontario railway advertisement, from Rod and Gun and Motor Sports in Canada (October 1907), p.14.

The result, as Calverley presents it, is an intricate web of interests through which the author often reaches beyond policy and legislation to bring forward the individuals who shaped them. With that analysis comes a sense that the overall result of the myriad competing interests shaping game legislation and policy in Ontario was one of confusion: as Calverley’s title indicates, it was simply not clear who was in charge. That this understanding of game legislation and policy greets Calverley’s reader underscores what the experience of living with such a political landscape must have been for the Anishinaabeg, who like indigenous peoples across Canada maintain a unique relationship to the state that extends to areas of wildlife legislation and policy, and who throughout Calverley’s discussion are revealed to have experienced arrest, seizure of goods, intimidation, and marginalization for engaging in a practice they believe they maintain a long-established right to pursue.

Fittingly and not surprisingly, the conceptual framework through which Calverley approaches this subject is that of liberalism and the “liberal order,” as articulated by Ian McKay. Readers, however, may be inspired to consider other frameworks or contexts that this Ontario-centered study does not address directly – for example the rapidly evolving discourse in Canada that has seen discussion of decolonization and cultural genocide reach mainstream audiences and institutions (on this note, Calverley’s nuanced presentation of Duncan Campbell Scott and the politics of acculturation may prove to be a tough sell); comparable Canadian studies including those of John Sandlos, Bill Parenteau, and James Daschuk that address in complementary terms the intersection of indigenous peoples, wildlife, and the state; or lenses such as governance or actor-network theory (an approach I cannot help but apply as I read this ‘thick description’ of interconnected stakeholders). In a similar manner, Calverley leaves me wanting to know more of the traditional Anishinaabeg practices, knowledge, and culture that this liberal order was displacing. As such, Who Controls the Hunt? is a valuable case study to which readers can bring as much as they take – and one I will remember each spring as we gather up the rods, the regulations, and the resident and non-resident permits we need to spend another season on the water.

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