Many Puget Sound-area sportsmen became furious Thursday when a video showing two canoes in the waters around Squaxin Island closing in on a swimming blacktail buck appeared on Facebook, and at one point in the video, one man clubs the deer with an oar, and then others dive into the water and slit its throat.
Ray Peters, a member of the Squaxin Tribal Council, told Examiner Friday afternoon that the tribal government is taking this incident seriously, and both tribal and state wildlife law enforcement are involved in the investigation.
The video got widespread attention in the on-line editor’s comments of Northwest Sportsman magazine. It ignited a furious discussion on the Hunting-Washington forum, and even got the attention of KOMO news, the local ABC affiliate in Seattle. Another man made a video of the original video and posted that on YouTube.
However, the video did leave some disgusted hunters in a quandary as they tried to come to terms with decades-old demands that tribal hunters take game in the “traditional way.” There was some acknowledgement that it might be difficult to prove that Puget Sound tribes never before took advantage of a swimming deer in such a manner, say 150 or more years ago when Washington was still a territory.
And, there’s that scene in an old Robert Mitchum-Marilyn Monroe classic “River of No Return,” in which Mitchum throws a rope over a swimming bull elk and — sparing the audience the graphic details — in the next scene he and Monroe are cooking an elk roast over an open fire. In the film, all Mitchum had was an axe and, well, you can figure out the rest, as did theater-goers who didn’t say a thing.
In this week’s case — the video appears to have been made on Wednesday — there is no tribal or state hunting season open, and law enforcement authorities have contacted the man who apparently killed the buck.
Peters told this column that the canoe activity was not sanctioned by the tribe, which is trying to identify everyone involved. Several people were aboard both canoes. He said the tribal council “felt we needed to make a public statement,” and that’s exactly what they did:
“Recently, video footage of tribal people taking inappropriate actions in the taking of a deer in Squaxin Island Tribal waters came to the attention of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council. The Council is deeply saddened by the events depicted in the video, and wishes to make clear that such actions will not be tolerated, now or in the future. The actions of the individuals involved are entirely improper and are contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the Squaxin Island Tribe. The matter has been referred to the proper law enforcement agencies and the Tribe will take appropriate steps to address the actions of the individuals involved. As a Tribe, we are sorry that these actions occurred, and will take all steps necessary to see that they are not repeated.”
Northwest Sportsman Editor Andy Walgamott told Examiner that he began digging as soon as he saw the video. KOMO described the images as “disturbing.” Members of the Hunting-Washington forum called it a few other things as well.
The video images opened old wounds, with some sportsmen resurrecting complaints about wasted salmon and steelhead, wintering animals killed at or near feeding stations, the selling of game meat and other grievances. From the tone of their statement, Squaxin tribal authorities are cognizant of the bitterness that has been raised by the posting of the 12-minute, 16-second video in which the actual clubbing occurs at 7 minutes, 4 seconds into the stream.
When the state entered into “secret negotiations” with the tribes some 30 years ago, hunters and anglers were righteously furious at then-Gov. Booth Gardner and his newly appointed Fish & Wildlife Director Curt Smitch. This video, complete with victory whoops from the canoers, could easily ignite not only an old battle over tribal fishing and hunting rights, but the tribe could also find itself in the sights of animal rights activists who are not known for diplomacy.
Any scramble for damage control may need to include criminal charges against all of those involved. While it is true one man wielded the paddle and one other man had the knife, it took everyone on board in both canoes to chase the buck, wear it down and finally catch it on the water. The video does not show anyone saying “No!”
Peters and his tribal colleagues have taken quick action. For them it is an embarrassing situation that may need to be dealt with harshly, and publicly so that sportsmen and even anti-hunters are assured that the tribe is serious about taking “appropriate steps” to see that this does not happen again.