But when a handful of non-indigenous hunters came along last week, their first instinct was to kill it. They not only slaughtered the precious animal, but also posed gleefully for photos, which they posted immediately on Facebook and other social media sites.
Brandon Maloney saw the shocking spectacle as he stepped out for coffee on the Millbrook First Nation, near Truro, Nova Scotia. The hunters were parked outside, the moose heaped in the back of their truck. He approached the three men, who confirmed they had shot and killed the white moose.
“I’m a big moose hunter myself,” said Maloney, who is from nearby Indian Brook First Nation, a Mi'kmaq community. “But I don't think they realized the seriousness of this.”
He gathered what words he could.
“I said, ‘We don't shoot them,’ ” he told Indian Country Today Media Network.
The hunters told Maloney that the moose had been easy to take down, that they’d shot it in the Belle Cote mountain range on the western side of the Cape Breton Highlands. Maloney's stomach turned yet again as they said that even the moose’s hooves were white. He snapped a photo to bear witness.
“Here they are sitting on a Native reserve with a white moose at the back of their truck at Tim Horton’s, showing off,” Maloney said. “They were all happy and excited at first, they were bragging.”
The sacredness of a white moose can only be compared to that of a white bison.
The wanton killing and skinning of a white buffalo calf in Texas last year, and the subsequent death of its mother, tore through Native and non-Native hearts in Indian country.
Similarly, the white moose is only rarely seen by the Mi'kmaq people, and it is off-limits to Mi’kmaq hunters. But no one has to tell them that.
“A moose like that represents the highest quality of a Native person,” said Emmett Peters, a Mi’kmaq Elder who lives in Afton, Nova Scotia, though is originally from Prince Edward Island. “Every time I see something like that [moose] it reminds me of integrity, courage, everything great in a leader.”
When hard times are coming, these white-spirited animals will appear. Peters was quick to mention the dispute taking place in New Brunswick over shale gas testing between indigenous people, the provincial government and SWN Resources Canada, the oil and gas company that is conducting the tests. The dispute has been intensifying since early summer, with a group called the Mi'kmaq Warrior Society blockading Route 134 near Rexton, in Kent Country, New Brunswick.
Peter MacDonald is a mammal biologist with the wildlife branch of the Department of Natural Resources of Nova Scotia. After viewing the photos, he confirmed the animal was indeed either albino or leucistic (lacking in the pigment melanin). Albinism is caused by a recessive trait, and such animals are very rare.
Shooting a white moose is not illegal, according to Nova Scotia hunting regulations. But killing such a creature is unfathomable to the Mi’kmaq, and they have always steered clear of this spiritual being, said Mi'kmaq hunter Danny Paul.
"We know the significance and we've been teaching that to the non-Native population for almost 500 years—about the importance that this and other white animals played in our lives," Paul told CBC News. "We are not to harm them in any way, shape, or form because they could be one of our ancestors coming to remind us of something significant that's going to happen within our communities."
The posting of photos of the dead moose on the Internet sparked even more anger. After a Nova Scotia shop, Hnatiuk's Hunting & Fishing Ltd., displayed several pictures of the moose with the hunters by its side on the store’s Facebook page, the image was shared more than 1,000 times. But the majority of comments reflected people’s shock, grief and disapproval.
"It was so disrespectful having seen it put on the social media, and it's been an outcry,” Paul told CBC News. “Our people are outraged."
After word got out about the moose’s death, Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade posted a comment on the Facebook page of Hnatiuk’s Hunting & Fishing Ltd., reaching out to the owners, and later spoke to them by phone.
“The White Moose killed is unacceptable to the Mi'kmaq people and brings bad luck to the hunter(s) who killed that animal,” Gloade wrote. “To do the proper thing the hide of the animal requires a special ceremony to prevent bad luck and harm to the Hunters. Many Mi'kmaq people are disturbed by the actions of hunters who most likely don't understand our culture. We must protect what is sacred and do the right thing to protect the land and life on it.”
The hunters and the shop owners, now informed of the moose’s significance, are working with Gloade to bring spiritual closure. They are handing over the moose hide to the Mi’kmaq, who will conduct a ceremony to honor the animal.
“Hnatiuk's would like to thank DNR and Chief Bob Gloade for calling us today,” one of the owners posted on the shop’s Facebook page on October 7. “Chief Bob was able to share the significance of the spirit moose with me and some of the ways in which our business and the hunters could help to bring peaceful closure. The hunters have been very cooperative, and we at Hnatiuk's are seeing that the hide is prepared asap (as requested) in order for it to be ready for the Mi'kmaq ceremonies.”
Gloade expressed his thanks and said Peters would conduct the ceremony. Above all, Gloade and others said, this should be viewed as an opportunity to educate people as well as pay tribute to the moose’s sacrifice.
“The next step is to bring a peaceful closure and honor the Spirit of the Sacred Moose,” Gloade wrote on his own Facebook page. “The time is to educate people on the Spiritual Significance of this animal and others to ensure that people understand the importance to the Mi'kmaq people so things like this don't happen.”