Savage Disobedience

Photo: Cheryl Humbert
Photo: Cheryl Humbert

WAYNE JOHNSON KNOWS what you think of him. He knows that you think he’s a killer, a bum, a drunk, a thug, a savage. He knows because he reads his press, trolling the internet at night for any mention of himself. “I worry about him, actually,” one of his lawyers said. “Some of the comments can get pretty nasty.”

For his part Johnson is stoic. “Yeah, I get death threats,” he told me. “Comes with the territory, I guess.” He ascribes most of them to “whackos” and says that he doesn’t give them — the threats, the whackos — too much thought. But the attention also seems to thrill him. “Google ‘Wayne Johnson’ and ‘whale,'” he said at one point. “See what you get.” So I did. What I got gave pause to the polite indifference with which I tend to read most online commentary. I don’t know how I would hold up if I were on the receiving end of so much vitriol. But then, I’ve never killed a whale.

THE BARE FACTS are known, and for the most part are uncontested: On the evening of September 7, 2007, on the Makah Reservation in Washington State, tribal whaling commissioner Andy Noel checked out buoys and weapons (five harpoons and a .577-caliber modified elephant gun nicknamed “Tyrannosaurus”) from the tribe’s inventory. The next morning, Noel, Johnson, Theron Parker, Frankie Gonzales, and William Secor Jr. took two boats onto the glass-smooth waters of Neah Bay. A little before 10 a.m., they saw a gray whale near the shore. In a nod to the spiritual relationship between man and manna, Johnson would later claim, “It chose us.” Others would hew to a less mystical interpretation in which the whale was one of the area’s nonmigratory residents, was therefore used to humans and their sightseeing ways, and so wouldn’t think to swim away when approached by a boat. But resident or no, the men harpooned the whale several times and, as Noel clung to the rope attached to a harpoon embedded in the animal, went to shoot it with the big gun. This procedure was in accord with the internationally sanctioned hybrid of traditional and modern hunting methods: first, the whale is harpooned the old-fashioned way, and then it is shot in the brainstem.

But here things started to go badly. The big gun misfired and fell overboard, and the only other means of quick dispatch at hand were a shotgun and a rifle. These lacked the strength to pierce the whale’s thick skull, though, and anyway the men shot at the wrong spot. Then they ran out of bullets.

Gunshots in Neah Bay are uncommon enough to alarm, and nearby boaters alerted the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a base on the reservation. The Coast Guard dispatched a boat and detained the men, taking custody of the whale by attaching the harpoon line to their own vessel. The men pleaded to be allowed to deliver a coup de grâce, but Coast Guard personnel wouldn’t let them — the goings-on were by then firmly trussed in chains of command and other bureaucratic contingencies. In the afternoon, the tribe’s marine mammal biologist, Jon Scordino, was brought out to assess the whale’s condition. The whale was by then barely moving, listless and insensate. Scordino knew it should be euthanized. Again the Coast Guard declined to do so because they lacked the proper tools. The Makah tribal council said they would, but first they wanted written permission to protect the tribe from what was likely to be further prosecution. By the time that permission arrived around 7:15 p.m., the whale had died, more than ten hours after it was first struck. The Coast Guard then allowed Joe McGimpsey, a Makah tribal member, to recite prayers over the carcass as they cut it loose. It drifted a little, then sank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in waters over seven hundred feet deep.

In the days after, as details of the incident and the identities of those involved spread, condemnation rained down on the Makah. The region was still smarting from 1999 when, attended by an armada of protesters as media helicopters swirled overhead, members of the tribe had paddled out and harpooned, then shot and killed, a gray whale — their first legally sanctioned hunt in over seventy years. Now, nearly a decade later, latent rage found new voice. Although a few of the letters that swamped area newspapers pleaded for temperance, most did not. Wrote one: “The world has just witnessed ‘the pride of the reservation,’ led by Wayne Johnson, essentially use a magnificent gray whale for target practice. So brave. So courageous and so important for their cultural identity. Enough of this nonsense.” Wrote another: “The idea that because their ancestors hunted whales, they therefore should be allowed to hunt whales, is silly. Our European ancestors hunted whales in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; but guess what? Our modern world has a revolutionary new concept: grocery stores! We’ve adapted, and the Makah need to, also.”

Amid this froth of opinion, a group of tribal members flew to Washington DC to reassure restive federal officials and the state’s skittish congressional delegation, both of which had provided crucial legal, logistical, and financial support for the 1999 hunt, that Johnson and his ilk by no means represented the intent of the tribe. Micah McCarty, a tribal councilman at the time, elected chairman in 2008 (and vice-chairman in 2009), was part of that group. McCarty is the great-grandson of Hishka, one of the last Makah whaling chiefs. He carves cedar masks in his garage — it took him a little more than a day to transform a block of cedar into the eerie, white, hollow-eyed gape of a drowned whaler that hangs next to his front door — and he’s well versed in the history of American Indian struggles. History has made him cynical. At a press conference in DC, he was asked what impact the hunt might have on the tribe’s legally sanctioned whaling aspirations, which at that time were in a bureaucratic stall. “It’s a public relations setback,” he answered. He later elaborated to me on what he had meant: “I hear a lot about how treaty rights are barbaric and archaic and have no place in a modern society. I mean, I’m sorry that people don’t like our philosophically inconvenient rights, but they need to understand just how deep it is for us as a people.”

Indeed, few things go as deep as the whale, that most charismatic of megafauna. Whenever I talked to a scholar of American Indian law — and when the Makah are involved, one ends up talking to a lot of legal scholars, it seems — there was one question I liked to ask because I thought it got bluntly to the heart of the matter: Isn’t this a straightforward case? The Makah signed the Treaty of Neah Bay in 1855. The treaty guarantees them the right to whale, and they are the only American Indian tribe to have secured themselves such a right. They stopped for a time when the gray whale was endangered, but, after it was delisted in 1994, they asked to start again. And while one may not like it, the treaty should be honored, shouldn’t it? Isn’t that all there is to it?

Each time the answer was something to the effect of: Are you kidding? That’s hardly all there is to it. Not by a long shot.

To which I’d say: Oh.

The legal scholar would continue: This isn’t just about treaty rights. It’s about people and some of their most strongly held beliefs. On both sides. It’s about how they try to explain their beliefs when they feel they shouldn’t have to, because when it’s your belief, it’s always obvious and self-evident. And it’s about how a society accommodates promises it made to protect traditions and beliefs that now conflict with its present values, and how it balances clashing moralities, especially when the traditions and beliefs that make it so squeamish happen to be what make a tribe a tribe, and go to the very core of its identity. All of which raises uncomfortable questions about how much of a right we, as that society, have to ask the tribes to behave in certain ways. And beyond that, it’s about how the tribes fit themselves into the world today, when they have more power to define themselves now than they have had for a long time. There are questions for the tribes, too: How does bringing back the old give us new life? What place should it have in our modern story?

These are not simple things to figure out at all.

DEPENDING ON the number of washouts or large tree branches sprawled across the road, Neah Bay is about a four-hour drive north of Seattle, on the northwesternmost tip of Washington State. The last stretch of the drive, from Port Angeles on, is beautiful but not exactly pleasant, as the narrow dipping state highway hugs the coast and its accompanying cliffs, and the white ribboned surf below beckons one to overcorrection if not outright ruin. The reservation itself, home to two thousand people or so, is also beautiful, or is at least surrounded by beauty — by hills dense with evergreens, jagged basalt headlands, and the waters of the bay and the strait and the dull pounding pulse of the Pacific that you can feel in your soles. But it, too, is not exactly pleasant. The community has a weary atmosphere, and its material poverty is sadly evident, made all the more so by the small, defiant efforts at civic renewal: a newly varnished war memorial on a gravel verge; a drive-through espresso stand festooned with Christmas lights.

This is where Wayne Johnson makes his home most of the time. It was April 2008 when I finally caught up with him. (He’s hard to get ahold of, and the tribe doesn’t go out of its way to make him available.) The day was sunny but also cold and a little windy, and we sat on the outside deck at the Warmhouse over cups of coffee. Over Johnson’s shoulder I could see the marina, with masts of seiners that stuck up like toothpicks on a crowded tray of hors d’oeuvres. Around them, two sea lions were flippering amid a raucous scrum of gulls. Every so often a bald eagle swept past. The tableau was so photogenic that I wondered if all the animals had been trained somehow.

Johnson’s mind was elsewhere, back when he was leading the training for the first hunt, long before this latest round of troubles. “In 1999, the crew would paddle back into the bay after a day of training, and kids would be crowding the docks,” he recalled. “They were like seagulls, watching, looking to get involved. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for these kids, to give them some pride in who they were.” A whale would have done that, he had hoped, would have transformed a community that was just trudging along. But look around now, almost ten years later. There’s no bowling alley, no place for the kids to hang out except under the street lamps or at the bus stop. Drugs and alcohol are still a problem, unemployment is way too high, and a lot of folks make it through the winter on commodity surplus cheese and canned goods. Better to have whale meat in their freezers to go with other healthy native foods.

This never came to pass, though, because soon after that first whale hunt, the tribe and the U.S. government were sued by environmental and animal rights groups. In 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the U.S. had erred in allowing the Makah to hunt in the first place. If the tribe wanted to hunt again, it would first have to obtain a waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which regulates, among other things, the conditions under which a marine mammal may be justifiably hunted.

The Makah were outraged. They felt betrayed. “It’s another treaty broken by the United States,” Johnson said angrily after the ruling, even though the U.S. had been a codefendant. “I’m going whaling again.”

The aforementioned legal scholars were also surprised.

“That ruling overturned decades of precedent,” says Charles Wilkinson, a professor of law at the University of Colorado. “The MMPA should not properly have been ruled to override their treaty.” To override it, he explained, the MMPA would have needed language that expressly countermanded the Makah’s treaty, or any other treaty. Since treaties are, at least on paper, the “supreme law of the land,” they take precedence, even over laws passed years later that prohibit certain actions.

Nowhere in the MMPA does it say anything about abrogating treaty rights. Nonetheless, something about whaling seemed to lessen the weight of the legal past. “There was a lot of emotion,” Wilkinson says. “I think the court felt that killing whales is kind of icky, kind of, you know, savage. That just flat-out comes into it.”

Whatever the feelings that the killing of a powerful environmental signifier evinces, which can run anywhere from a general distaste (my own reaction) to a visceral, almost violent revulsion (Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society comes to mind, but others, too, of a less combative spirit), it is worth remembering that, although the Makah are the only tribe in the U.S. with a treaty right to whale, they are not the only tribe in the U.S. that whales. Alaska Natives have hunted bowhead for thousands of years; Thule culture, from which modern Inuit culture is descended, is structured almost entirely around the bowhead and its consumption.

Like the Makah, the Alaska Natives once found their subsistence pathway threatened by hands other than their own. In 1946, the year that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was formed, the bowhead was one of the rarest whales in the world due to decades of overhunting by Europeans and Russians. To stay its extinction, the IWC instituted a moratorium on all bowhead whaling, save for a handful of aboriginal hunters, including the Alaska Natives. But in 1977, alarmed by further bowhead declines, the IWC called for a halt to all hunting. The Alaska Natives, who were at the time in the midst of a cultural revival that placed renewed emphasis on whaling, contested the decision, and the U.S. government, after some minor squabbling, backed them. In December of that year, the two groups asked that the ban be modified, couching their request in terms of cultural integrity as well as subsistence. In 1978, that request was granted, and Alaska Natives have had a small bowhead quota ever since.

Opposition to the Alaska Natives’ hunt is nowhere near as intense as it has been to the Makah’s, even though the bowhead is still critically endangered while the gray whale, depending on whom you ask, is not. “It’s one of those things I don’t get,” Micah McCarty says. “Maybe there’s a different recognition of the Freedoms of the Noble Savage, or something?” Charles Wilkinson also has to cast around for a clear reason. “There’s the geographic aspect, that’s probably part of it,” he says. “Another thing could be that, elsewhere, natives already have the right to whale, and the Makah are trying to get it. The delay makes them an easier target.” Perhaps. One other explanation could be the perceptions of modernity, or of its lack, that surround the Alaska Native and the landscape in which he hunts. Accurately or no, the Alaska Native of the popular imagination inhabits a premodern frontier, one of the last ones on the planet, and his hunt is an artifact from an unbroken nativity. It is not a photo of Wayne Johnson cradling an obscenely large gun in a canoe as it cruises in vulgar proximity to major urban centers. Miles from anywhere, standing on the sea ice in a sealskin parka as he scans an endless Arctic horizon, harpoon in hand, the Alaska Native is at once old and ageless. The whale he will kill has already been dead for a thousand years.

Most American Indians, though, are not so distant in space or time. If they wish to revive quiescent traditions, they often must do so in full view, which can lead to a lot of public comment, most of it unsolicited. Such was the case with the Makah. When they first tried to revive their whaling tradition in the 1990s, they were told that they lived in a modern age, that civilized people don’t kill whales, and so on. Also, the tribe hadn’t hunted for decades, so what was the big deal? Whaling was no longer a part of the contemporary Makah identity.

With this, most members of the Makah agreed. They said: That’s right, it isn’t. But it used to be. And yes, we haven’t gone whaling since the 1920s, when we stopped after the white man’s insatiable appetite for the gray whale almost drove it extinct; when we were herded onto the postage stamp that is our reservation; when our children were made to attend Indian schools where they were taught to be ashamed of who they were; when the Bureau of Indian Affairs threatened to arrest us if we performed our whaling ceremonies or had our potlatches; when our language became an academic curio; when the last of our whalers died. So yes, we don’t have a feel for the knowledge anymore. That doesn’t mean we feel nothing.

With this in mind, and to get another view of how the Makah might feel about claims of whaling’s obsolescence, I visited the Makah Cultural and Research Center — not, I was told, to be confused with that warehouse of departed cultures, a museum. This place celebrated a vital past rather than dead certainties. It was a quiet afternoon, and I was the only visitor. I walked up the hall, past the old maps and daguerreotypes, and into a spacious, vaguely sepulchral room. In its center, two canoes sat on stands. They were handsome craft, sturdy and high-prowed, both carved from cedar logs. The larger one, used for whaling, was thirty feet long.

Surrounding the canoes were display cases full of objects. Each had a small card with its Nuu-chah-nulth name and English equivalent, often more phrase than word, and itself a kind of lethal poetry. There, a section of the whale harpoon, a thick shaft of yew whittled to a point: yew-dupu•yak, or “tool that injures severely.” Coiled beneath, a cord of sinew, used to tie a dead whale’s mouth shut so it wouldn’t sink and be lost: subuqa•it, or “long line to hold and make mute.”

Most of the things in the room were old, but one item conspicuously was not. This was the large skeleton suspended over the two canoes, the remains of the gray whale from the 1999 hunt. Interred in dim space with the other relics, it was as still and silent as they were, with no mention of where it came from or what it might have meant. There are a number of possible reasons for this. Perhaps, given the skeleton’s turbulent history, the tribe didn’t want to draw undue attention to it. Or perhaps they wanted to place it within a larger, calmer historical frame, joining the present more seamlessly to the past. Or perhaps the museum staff simply hadn’t gotten around to labeling it yet. (When I asked the woman at the front desk, she shrugged. It was 4:57 p.m. — almost closing time.)

But the skeleton and its discontents stayed with me. Earlier, I had asked McCarty what the differences were between the event of 1999 and the incident in 2007 — between the austere gloom of the skeleton in the cultural center and the pile of bones and flesh on the seafloor.

“One of the main things is how we reacted as a people,” McCarty had said. “In 1999, there were certainly tribal members who didn’t think we should whale, but when the media and the protesters showed up, that did a lot to bring everyone together. Now, things are a lot more fractious. That whole thing made us look stupid and ridiculous, like we couldn’t control our own people. It was hard to take. We as a tribe didn’t choose this battle, remember.”

In fact, the tribe had assiduously avoided it, spending the intervening years between 1999 and the present working with the government to obtain the necessary MMPA waiver, writing cover letters and formal applications on handsome tribal letterhead depicting the mythical Thunderbird carrying a whale. It was Wayne Johnson who had had enough of what he saw as a bureaucratic neutering. “I’m proud of what we did,” he had said in September 2007, reading from a statement. “Some people are calling what I did an act of civil disobedience. I don’t know much about that, but if civil is what the government is, then call my part savage disobedience.”

These were poignant words, for a number of reasons. The annals of American Indian civil disobedience are rich and varied, but for men who considered themselves treaty warriors in the Pacific Northwest, one episode seems especially apt: the salmon wars of the 1960s and ’70s. At that time, members of the Salmon Nation became fed up with the state of Washington limiting their access to the fish, as well as the methods by which they could catch the few they were allotted, so they decided to test the valence of the Medicine Creek Treaty, signed in 1854. One of the prime movers in the conflict was the current chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a Nisqually tribesman named Billy Frank Jr. Fourteen years old at the time, Frank started to fish illegally, sometimes at night so the state fish wardens who prowled the riverbanks wouldn’t see him, and sometimes during the day so they would. They did, and after more than forty years of fish-ins, arrests, beatings, and the occasional shooting, Frank and his case ended up in federal court. A three-year battle resulted in the 1974 Boldt decision, a landmark ruling that allotted the tribes half of all the salmon caught in Puget Sound waters.

That history of deliberate, ritualized transgression using a treaty as a shield is the lens through which Wayne Johnson sees his whale hunt. “We can use [Frank’s] help and example to get other tribes involved because it’s a treaty right for all Indians, really,” he argues. “We lose, everybody loses.”

But Johnson’s reading on the proper employ of tribal sovereignty is at odds with convention. “In terms of the Indian experience,” says Charles Wilkinson, “sovereignty and civil disobedience have been in large part mutually exclusive. Major civil disobedience has not been widespread, and most of it has been off-reservation.” That is, it has been outside of the tribal councils, which is where sovereignty is located on the reservations. Marching against another sovereign doesn’t come easily to the councils. For one thing, as Micah McCarty notes, if one were to do so it would upset the notion that the relationship between the U.S. and the tribes is government-to-government, rather than government-to-strident-but-largely-powerless-indigenous-collective. So if Johnson views the Salmon Wars in terms of resistance, persecution, and eventual concession, then McCarty, although he shares that view in part, takes away a lesson in negotiation and intergovernmental dealings. Engaging, he feels, is just as much an assertion of sovereignty as resistance.

“In the wake of the Boldt decision,” McCarty said, “adversaries became comanagers of a resource. That’s really what this is about.” The current arrangement is far from ideal, and the Treaty of Neah Bay may have been “negotiated in a framework of extortion,” as he put it, but it’s what the tribe has to work with, and it means Wayne Johnson wasn’t simply flouting federal laws on that calm September morning. “Five individuals defamed the lawful intentions of a tribal government,” McCarty said.

Wayne Johnson seemed to acknowledge as much. “We’ve put them all in a tough spot,” he said, referring to the tribal council and its newest chairman. “They wanted to keep everything in Neah Bay, to keep it out of federal court. But whether they agreed to it or not, there’s still the treaty right. They’ve got to back me up.” He felt bad for Micah, for making his life more difficult, but it was a collateral sympathy. The council had, after all, been more or less content to work through the proper channels. It was willing to be patient where he and his crew were not. Maybe, then, he was thinking of two governments that were all too civil, even as he called himself savage.

Such conflicts — in this case a private one that was obscured by its more sensational public components — will only become more common. “Tribes are approaching a point in their evolution as modern polities that is leading to some real growing pains,” says David Wilkins, a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. “Freedoms and liberties almost always used to be couched in a framework of what was good for the nation. It was rare for an individual to go against the tribe.” But that is happening more and more now. “No one really has a road map for where we’re going,” Wilkins says. “We’re nervous, we’re uncomfortable, we go back and forth in a real tug of war. What do you do when individuals feel they have rights that clash with a tribe’s aims? How is that resolved? Who gets to decide what it means to be a good Indian?”

With this rejuvenated capacity for self-determination, the Makah, and tribes in general, are pushing up against philosophical boundaries that they have not approached before. Just how they negotiate them will do much to determine how often we on the outside will find ourselves asking whether we’re entitled to have a say in the identity politics of American Indians. Such a say we may be loath to relinquish. After the 2007 incident, it was hard to miss the whiff of disapproving patronage from an otherwise bilious commentariat. “I hoped that having won their rights and lifted their spirits, the Makah would not pursue another whale,” wrote Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large. “It’s not in the Makah’s long-term interest to be seen as whale-killers.” This echoed the consensus after the 1999 hunt, when most people figured that a live whale would never again be harpooned in U.S. waters: The tribe had had their fun. They got to paddle around in their canoes and relive their traditions and kill a whale. A grudging public winced, but didn’t fuss all that much. It was a compromise of sorts between the Makah and everyone who hadn’t sued them.

Few seem to have considered that the Makah might not be attracted to this kind of compromise, in which a won right is reduced to a single dramatic exercise of it, and then put back in its case. It is possible they have other ideas about what is in their own long-term interest. And part of that interest, some of the Makah say, may lie in moving past a single identifier — and, with that, away from the attentions of people like me — as the tribe focuses on the more workaday needs that accompany the rise of this more modern Indian nation.

“I don’t want to trivialize it,” McCarty said after I’d called him yet again to get his take on this or that minor development, “but as a tribe, we’re more than just the whale. I mean, we’re trying to get a new health center, and that’s important for the community. Sometimes, I wish people would think about that stuff, too.”

When he said this, though, I have to confess that I thought instead of something else. I thought of a wall at the cultural center, one behind the two enormous canoes and the whale skeleton. The wall is covered by an enlarged photograph, which serves as a backdrop for the whole hushed space. Taken in 1910, it was until the past ten years or so the only known picture of Makah whalers in action. It shows two men in a canoe, and a whale in front of them. One of the men clings to a rope attached to a harpoon that is embedded in the whale, which is towing the canoe in its boiling wake. Near the prow, the other man is poised to plunge a second harpoon into the whale’s back, and he does not look like he is going to miss. It is an arresting image, all the more so because, save for the canoe and the men and the whale, the scene is shrouded in fog and is thus almost entirely, appropriately gray. There is no horizon, no sense of a world outside of this taut, intimate struggle. Just a blur of frozen action — of two men bound, one throwing and the other clinging, and a whale, powerfully churning through the water, unable to get away.

Eric Wagner writes about science and nature from his home in Seattle, Washington, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His writing has appeared in High Country News, Scientific American, Smithsonian, AudubonSlate and elsewhere. He has a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Washington for work he did on penguin behavior at the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins, in Punta Tombo, Argentina.


  1. Thanks, Eric. I feel that I have a good sense of what happened and the context in which it occurred. And was only possible because you took the time and Orion gave you the space to share this with us.

    I have 3 immediate reactions to the story.

    First, sadness that almost everything seems to have gone wrong and that, when the Coast Guard became involved it only made things worse, by prolonging the suffering of the whale.

    Second, we, Americans, like to speak of how we live by the rule of law and, yet, here is a panel of judges–a Court of Appeals, no less–that shows little regard for clear precedent AND WILL NEVER BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE because of lifetime appointments and no mechanism for holding them accountable.

    Third, just before this, I read of how the WTO will rule on complaints by Mexico and Canada that the US’s Country of Origin Labeling requirements violate our responsibilities under the treaties creating the WTO. In that case, the WTO, a group outside the US, has the authority to rule on whether the US has kept its obligations whereas in this case the Makah are stuck with US courts.

    I suggest that the Makah appeal its treaty to the World Court.

  2. For the Makah, whale hunting obviously has deep cultural and even religious significance.For our institutions (courts) to deny them this activity, wouldn’t it be comparable to some outside authority denying Christians the right to communion, maybe because of some people not having enough food to eat, and therefore it is a waste of bread and grape juice? OK, maybe I am stretching the point here, but you get what I mean.

    We are so civilized that we designate poor laborers to do our killing for us so we can have animal meat (those of us who are not vegans) in our diets.

    Furthermore, most people in our country are so nature deprived that we don’t appreciate that nature is all about one species killing another for food, and that man, in fact, is part of nature. The court felt that killing whales was “kind of icky” and the author, Eric Wagner, states that he found whale killing “distasteful”.

    Can anyone make a serious argument that an occasional whale killing by Native Americans has any significant impact on whale population? After all, white man’s activities in the past, and in the present with our pollution and other activities which harm the ocean environment are doing far more damage to marine species.

    We already have such a long history of treaty abrogation that it is a habit we can’t stop. I’m glad I’m not a Native American and having someone constantly trying to make me into being a foreigner in my own country.

    I enjoy the quality of writing and the subject matter of Orion. I regret that after giving gift subscriptions to all 4 of my married sons that they and especially their spouses found the subject matter too “dark” and did not renew. They are all environmentally conscious, and well educated, but don’t like to talk about many of the issues. Unfortunately, I think this problem is widespread, and hinders our ability to do anything meanful about solving environmental issues.

    Thank you.

    James Sauer

  3. The Makah whaling party might most be condemned for its incompetence in whale hunting. The Keystone Cops of whale hunting. But not funny.
    The story gets turned on its side when you realize the near-sacred whale was abused and wasted by native people no less.
    Better to have the whole episode sink quietly into the deep.

  4. This was a challenging read. It’s such a charged issue, as whaling always is, but the Makah situation perhaps moreso.

    My wife and I blundered onto the reservation in 1999 not knowing that their first hunt was about to happen, and passed roadblocks manned by riot police with automatic rifles, watched choppers in the air, and saw the Sea Shepherd armada bobbing offshore.

    Pretty surreal.

    Erik, Orion Grassroots Network

  5. The deep irony in this “clash of civilizations” is expressed in the statement “Our modern world has a revolutionary new concept: grocery stores! We’ve adapted, and the Makah need to, also.”

    In truth, we have not adapted biologically to the depredations that the modern supermarket has inficted upon both human health and the environment.

    The lifeless and mal-nourishing foods we buy with our wage-slavery in little cans and boxes has contributed to pandemic chronic disease, obesity, and food obsession. The stockyards and agri-businesses that feed those store shelves have decimated our arable lands, poisoned our waterways, and turned traditional hunting and husbandry into mass inhumane slaughter. Yet it is our carefully managed distancing from the sources of our foods that keeps us “innocent” and reactive when other people seek their own food in more honest ways.

    It’s no wonder that the Makah whalers were clumsy in their hunt, having had their traditions wrested from them by force. They should be commended for trying to make the best of their efforts rather than condemned for mistakes. It was clearly the Coast Guard (why are they based on tribal land?) who made the gravest errors and whose actions resulted in the waste of a great creature.

    The “animal rights” people who castigate natives for exercising their natural and legal rights are not unlike the “pro-life” groups who hate and condemn rather than try to build bridges to another way of understanding and being in the world.

    One has to wonder who the real savages are today.

  6. A mural and past, premordial violence does not a right to persecture make. This is especially true for groups or individuals who market themselves as victims, as Mitchell surely does.

    Nantucket is awash in whaling detritus: museums, harpoons, whaling captain’s mansions. Surely cultural, and no more. North American tribes once drove thousands of buffalo and other species off 500-foot-high cliffs. No more. For the heck of it, gunners had “great fun” shooting thousands of hapless passenger pigeons from the skies. Murals in Egypt record a history of human slavery.

    Whilst condemning affronts, many deadly serious, others excessively slight, toward our own species, it is axiomatic that “progressives” simply adore savage chic: violence and ignorance toward other species – if by the correct, chosen group – is fashionable. Victomology is turned on its head: the victims here are the perps – not the assaulted.

    Killing a gray (who had learned to trust humans) to “make a point” is a cowardly, debased and narcissistic act, one that was botched, to boot. A gray whale would never stoop to kill to make a point. If Mitchell and others partake selectively of modern life – monitoring blogs online, for example, – evolving elsewhere seems in order.

  7. The only “violence and ignorance” in regard to this incident is the kind that Susan Russell so self-righteously spouts.

    The Makah did not engage in the hunt “to make a point” but to exercise their natural and legal rights, to honor their long culture of respectful engagement with the creatures who feed them, and to bring healthy food to their people.

    The difference in cultures became stark when the Makah spoke prayers to the whale after the dominant culture’s bureaucratic delays prolonged the animal’s suffering and caused its death to be wasted.

    The only thing “turned on its head” is the occupying culture’s arrogance in condemning the activities of those who live with respect for the lives of other creatures. It is the upside-down arrogance of a culture which has demonstrated a complete disregard for the web of life and its sacred relationship to our own.

    Hunting for subsistence (as all natural predators do) is not a violent act. The taking and giving of life is at the core of nature’s laws. Violence is whatever violates the natural law or undermines the sacred integrity of another creature or the land itself.

    It is we Europeans who brought violence to Turtle Island. Even the Native American Buffalo jumps – necessary in order to feed, shelter and clothe the people – took only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of ruminants. It was the Spanish horses and guns and later the settlers’ “sport” of shooting Buffalo from trains and for contest and shipping literally millions of hides per year Eastward which wiped out the once great herds.

    That anyone in this fundamentally violent dominant and globally-dominating culture would condemn the simple subsistence act of a few natural people is, itself, an act of violence.

  8. Appellate courts have been wrong in the past, as they were in this case, and sometimes it is worthwhile to challenge the legal system all over again. But that is a judgement call, often tempered by whether or not the plaintiffs have bigger (or, more expensive or worthwhile fish to fry).

    A larger issue for the dominant society is the persistence of ignorance about our nation’s treaty obligations, both domestic and foreign, and how the denial of justice to any group, no matter how small, jeopardizes the prospects for justice for all.

    The greatest crime in the events recounted in Eric’s article is the absence of recognition of the vital importance of cultural diversity to the evolution of humankind, and the co-evolution of the rest of the biosphere. While the news media are quick to recount instances of discrimination due to race, age, gender, or sexual preference, who is questioning the genocide implicit in denying Makah or Inuit whaling?

  9. I admire all of you here who have taken the time to articulate your views on this in a civil manner…the older I get, the more I see this as the first requirement.

    Too, I think we know that our opinions won’t change or influence whatever outcome there may be, really, which makes it all the more extraordinary that we’d take the time to voice them. I guess that this is just one of those issues that hits you on a visceral level, no matter your position.

    So far, the opinions seem to be running in favor of the Makah, and I agree with that view also.

    What I sense in the opposite view is that the Makah couldn’t possibly know what is good for them and the whales. For peoples who are more than used to a paternalistic government…equal parts handouts and corporal punishment….this condescension can’t go unrecognized by them for what it is. I’d sure as hell resent it if I were them.

    Susan, I can’t help but agree with R.R. regarding where the real violence in our industrialized food chain. We’ve externalized so many costs associated with that that we have trouble accepting food with only one degree of separation. Really, I envy the Makah for that luxury. (It is.) It is also a necessity…the best of both worlds. And the examples you cited of market hunting travesties of the 19th century just don’t have any ability to shed any light on a subsistence hunt we’re talking about here.

  10. I grew up in a small coastal village on Vancouver Island that originally was a First Nations Village, which later incorporated non natives into it’s society. I developed a cultural awareness, affection and sensitivity to their customs, culture and art, and to this day, respect their traditions, sympathize with their suppression by the government of the day and support their self management in this new age.

    When I first read/saw the first whale hunt that is mentioned in this article, I felt ill. For many years I was in the habit of spending my winters boon docking on the beaches of Baja and during these times, I was befriended by Mexican nationals who were making their living off the sea and tourism. Some were commercial fishermen in their Pangas, setting long lines and unfortunately catching Manta Rays as an incidental catch to their shark fishing. Others were taking tourists out to the lagoons to observe and often make intimate contact with the Grays. On numerous occasions I have been out on the lagoons after calving season, and tapped the side of the Panga and had the pleasure and excitement of seeing a Cow and her Calf rise to the surface only feet away, then the Cow would ease the Calf over to the side of the Panga and we would make eye contact and we would be allowed to touch and stroke the calf. This trust of humans by these exotic mammals must be held sacrosanct.

    I was so angered by the actions Makah that I felt that I should go to their reserve and personally transport the key individuals to Baja and let them experience what I experienced with the Cow and Calf. I felt that there could be a Spiritual awakening within the Tribe and instead of focusing on one part of their heritage, namely the “harvesting” of a whale for symbolic purposes, they might in fact, focus on the cultural significance and share this with non natives in the form of Eco Tourism. The Makah would be the only First Nation People to legally approach whales in the wild. The rest of the world has to maintain specific distances in order not to harass the species in question. Federal Laws on both sides of the border regulate the Whale Watching Industry especially in the San Juans, Gulf Islands and Johnstone Strait. However in the situation with the Makah, they would have the opportunity to carve a fleet of beautiful canoes and take paying guests out into their traditional waters to observe the beauty of the area and to appreciate their Heritage that once was. With professional presentations in their Cultural Centers, handouts and the canoe trip, world opinion might change in favor of their culture and this recent transgression might be forgotten. The revenue from such an Eco Venture might provide the improvements that the Band requires without Government Bailout. In other words, transform the community as they envision.

  11. Fred Howard’s cultural elitism blinds him to the integrity of the “first nations” people he claims to respect.

    He calls their subsistence hunt a “transgression” and suggests that they might be spiritually enlightened by those who profess the obsenity of eco-tourism, another way to prostitute one’s culture and land for the sake of financial gain.

    Is there no limit to the ignorance arrogance of the dominant culture?

  12. I’m very anxious and excited to meet with a delegation from the Makah tribe who will be visiting our school next week here in northern California. I will copy this article and the responses and begin a dialogue with my students and any willing tribal members and work to further educate ourselves and the wider community on the many issues within the larger contexts. Thanks Orion for the “curriculum” and thanks to the author and the responders for inspiration to pursue this further. Cheers.

  13. I feel that Fred Howard has posted a brilliant comment as a solution to the fiasco of the 2007 Makah symbolic whale killing. Why not spiritually evolve with the whales instead of killing them because you can. Mr. Howard’s suggestion to work with the people, animals and enviroment makes much more sense to me than exercising treaty rights to prove a point.

  14. C. Crofoot and Fred Howard make an assumption that is not supported by the article: that the Makah killed a whale to “make a point”. Such an inappropriate assumption can arise only from a cultural bias that ingores and dismisses the stated reasons for engaging in this tribal tradition.

    That bias is further evidenced in the suggestion that either the dominant culture or the whales themselves are more “spiritually evolved” than the Makah hunters.

    That the Makah have respect for the whales (perhaps far more than mainstream culture) is demonstrated by their long abstention from hunting when the Gray Whale was listed as endangered. It was only since the delisting of the Gray that very limited attempts to revive their hunting traditions occurred.

    What the article attempted to make clear, and what both these commentators obviously missed is this:

    “This isn’t just about treaty rights. It’s about people and some of their most strongly held beliefs. On both sides…it’s about how a society accommodates promises it made to protect traditions and beliefs that now conflict with its present values…especially when the traditions and beliefs that make it so squeamish happen to be what make a tribe a tribe, and go to the very core of its identity. All of which raises uncomfortable questions about how much of a right we, as that society, have to ask the tribes to behave in certain ways.”

    Micah McCarty, the great-grandson of one of the last Makah whaling chiefs, said “I’m sorry that people don’t like our philosophically inconvenient rights, but they need to understand just how deep it is for us as a people.”

    What the article calls for is cross-cultural understanding, not the kind of cultural elitism and cultural disdain that some here are displaying.

  15. The laws of our land are in place for better or for worse and apply to all men, women and children regardless of ethnic background.

    The harvesting of Abalone is forbidden. The trading of bear parts (gall bladder, claws and teeth) is also forbidden even though you might have legally taken the bear during hunting season with all appropriate rules and regulations adhered to, and the taking, killing or trading in Eagle parts (feathers, claws, beaks etc.) is also forbidden, yet these were all very important components of the First Nations’ culture as was the harvesting of whales.

    So, I have to ask each of you to apply reason: Just because you can, is it appropriate that you do.

  16. Fred,

    You seem to confuse ethnic American citizens with Native American sovereign peoples, whose natural rights pre-dated the existence of either the States or the Federal Government.

    Native legal rights are determined by treaty, and the Supreme Court has ruled that a treaty is “not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them.” In other words, the “reserved rights doctrine” stipulates that Native Americans have all rights not explicitly abrogated by treaty, including the right to hunt and fish in all their traditional locations, even outside their reservations.

    And the eagle feather law (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations), stipulates that individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use.

    Applying “reason” to an argument requires that one understand the historical and legal context. Once that is established then, yes, there is the question of what should be done among the options that legally can be done.

    But to suggest that we European occupiers, we modern Westerners who have nearly destroyed the earth, we who engage in global warfare and who allow extremes of wealth and poverty, we who have shown utter disrespect for the web of life – that WE should teach First Nation peoples how to live honorably, responsibly, and respectfully, is the height of arrogance.

  17. I wonder if the defenders of cultural rights would defend another culture’s right to kill humans as well, or if it’s only non-human killing which is worthy of righteous defense.

  18. “greentangle”, What planet do you live on?

    All cultures kill people, often legally and in socially-acceptable ways.

    Amongst these (with no moral judgment assumed) are personal or property defense, tribal or national defense, police in the line of duty, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, capital punishment, the legal sale of deadly products (such as Twinkies, tobacco and liquor), and the wide support for high-tech allopathic medicine (which one recent meta-study determined kills more Americans than any other cause).

    In many “civilized” cultures, several or most of these are practiced and largely accepted. The culture of the United States, perhaps, leads the world in socially-acceptable killing.

    But we Americans, prone to smugness and the superiority that comes from Manifest Destiny, judge “our” killing to be OK while that of other cultures is not. Compare the millions of Muslim lives lost in our quest for “security”, the nearly one million annual abortions, the dozens of legal executions – to the rare cases of infanticide and voluntary death of elders amongst indigenous peoples to control populations.

    Or considering cross-species killing, compare the near total depletion of the world’s oceans by “civilized” nations compared to one gray whale among the Makah. Or the mayhem of legal slaughterhouses for profit compared to a hunter’s careful dispatching of a few wild creatures to feed his family.

    As my mother used to say, “Homosapiens who reside in transparent edifices should refrain from hurling geological objects through the atmosphere.”

    The proselytizing and the rhetoric aside, why has only one person offered up a positive solution to the conversation?

  20. Crofoot: “proselytizing and the rhetoric aside”, by which he means cogent arguments for which he has no effective rejoinder.

    He refers obliquely to the demeaning suggestion, paraphrased from Fred Howard : “Why not spiritually evolve with the whales instead of killing them because you can.”

    A demeaning and culturally insensitive suggestion made all the worse by Howard’s pretense that he “developed a cultural awareness, affection and sensitivity to their customs, culture and art, and to this day, respect[s] their traditions…”

    As repeately pointed out, the above “positive solution” is based on the assumption, unsupported by the article, that the Makah killed the whale ‘because they could’, and on the unsupportable assumption that the Makah, who prayed over the whale they killed and voluntarily ceased their traditional hunting when the Grays were endangered, are less spiritually evolved than either whales or progressive vegans, colonial liberals, or militant animal rights activists.

    Whales, I will grant, are highly evolved and pacific creatures. Self-righteous modern humans, however, are not.

  21. I quote Riversong/ Nov 20: “the obsenity of eco-tourism, another way to prostitute one’s culture and land for the sake of financial gain”

    Of course, the Makah could take the revenue generating approach that their bretheren on other reserves have take, namely the sale of tax free tobacco, fireworks, billboard advertising and gambling casinos. However, I don’t condone these methods just as Riversong doesn’t condone Eco Tourism as a bonifide bridge between cultures that would also bolster their meager financial coffers. Their elders admit that alcohol and substance abuse needs to be addressed and I would surmise that other abuses such as elder, spousal and child abuses might also need to be addressed. Maybe the energy and passion of the hunt might be better channeled toward improving the economic, social, health and welfare structure of the band in it’s entirety. This is not meant to demean their spiritual pursuits, but only to acknowledge that there is more than one pea in the pod that needs to be picked.

  22. A recent email to a friend:

    Hi XXXXXX.. I know that you are up to your arse in alligators over this holiday season… however, it may take a while for the hard copy of the Makah article to arrive on your doorstep and it won’t include the stimulating dialogue that the on line version presents. So, if you wish for a time out….place yourself in a tranquil space, as though you were on the boat at anchorage, at peace as it were, where you were in close proximity to a First Nations’ Village (as Canadian Indians preferred to be known as) vs American Indians as I perceive the lower 48 calls them, not what they choose to be referred to as etc…. then open the article, generalize and identify your perspective on the content. Then get in to the comments that have arrived from wherever.. and I really don’t qualify any of them except that I know where I come from, and where my experience base and education would direct me. I’m not asking you to formulate an opinion, however, I respect your intellect and sensitivities and I would receive your feedback willingly without prejudice, as it were.

    In Canada, we didn’t treaty all Indians. We did not progress nor colonize by annialization therefor many of our First Nations have no contract with the government of the day and as we speak, treaties are being contracted at today’s prices, given credit for harm done, resources denied and resources yet to be harvested. So my perspective does not concur with those of the lower 48 or elsewhere who have taken positions presented in this feedback of the article. This does not preclude that those who are most vocal have any local knowledge or experience in the field, only emotional and possibly academic influence…. and a loud presence.

    This is the first experience that I have incurred, ever, of such emotion by so few who appear to have an agenda, rather than one of arbitration and resolve.

    So my friend… let’s keep in touch over this.. after all, it ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings….. as someone said… best regards, Fred

  23. Fred,

    You are surprised by “such emotion by so few who appear to have an agenda, rather than one of arbitration and resolve.”

    You urge us to use “reason” and to find “solutions”.

    Perhaps if you let go of reason and discover passion, you will understand an “agenda” to confront the arrogance and conceit that is foundational to Western culture and the root of its dysfunction.

    Perhaps, as one who seems to come from a dispassionate academic environment, you might consider the wisdom of a great and noble academic, Phillip Simmons Ph.D., English professor at Lake Forest College, diagnosed with ALS at age 35, died at home at age 45, author of Learning to Fall:

    “Problems are to be solved. True mysteries are not. But each of us finds his or her own way into mystery. At one time or another, each of us confronts an experience so powerful, bewildering, joyous, or terrifying that all our efforts to see it as a problem are futile. Each of us reaches the end of reason’s rope. And, when we do, we can either grip harder and get nowhere or we can let go and fall. For what does mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence. That we fully, consciously hand ourselves over. That is all, and that is everything.”

    – address at Harvard Medical School about healing

  24. Riversong… oh for goodness sakes… I’m not participating in this dialogue for reasons as you suggest. quote: “to confront the arrogance and conceit that is foundational to Western culture and the root of its dysfunction.”

    I am a born and bred West Coaster… I am educated but I have real life experiences beyond many who choose to pass judgment. I have lived with those who came before the white man. I have learned their ways. I have introduced their new generations to their culture, art and heritage thru many medium. I am not a novice presuming knowledge of their culture. I live it. I respect it. I choose to enhance it. It has been said, “there is a critic born every day but there are very few who have the ability to create a new path”.

    Many of my footsteps are on virgin ground. I like it that way….. I don’t like passing over those who have passed before me…. so I’m tired of this pissing contest… adios..

  25. Wait a minute…there it is again…faint but very tangible….YES! Condescension.

    Mr. Howard, I suppose that you are, like you said, gone from this discussion, so I guess there is not any point in addressing your proposed solution….but I’ll go ahead anyway.

    I’m going to presume that you are, like me, not a native. I’m going to presume that also of many of those here who have militated for the Makah to but aside their aberrant ways.

    What I’m really picking up on in your “solution” is that you no doubt feel that you have, as a representative of your own culture, “evolved” to a state that justifies your instruction to those cultures that just haven’t quite reached your own level of understanding.


    Seems like I remember that kind of
    thinking being at the root of all this unpleasantness….if only those “savages” would learn our ways, and don’t you know, God instructs us to save them from their poor benighted selves.

    Look, I don’t doubt that you are learned in the ways of these men and women, as you say. To me, that makes your opinon all the more tragic. We’ve paved that road to Hell many times.

    Wouldn’t you, of all people, know what THEY wanted, and why? If you told me that there position was a farce, well, I’d have to believe you and my position might change. I’ve not heard that. So, I’m left with only your belief that you know better for them. Can you change my mind about that?

    I would like to know what you think about that point of view, if you are still here.

  26. Riversong, as usual, you seem by far to be the smuggest poster here. All your prolific posts amount to is “My bias is better than your bias.”

    I’m sure all the great defenders of native rights will be giving back the land they live on and returning to Europe before the next issue’s out.

  27. My “Aha Moment” for today…

    Hollering Extremist – does not a compassionate person make…

  28. “greentangle”, rather than respond to my substantive reply, you sling mud (which, by the way, doesn’t stick).

    Just as all human cultures kill other humans and other creatures (an obvious truism that you have failed to acknowledge), all people have a bias. And, yes, some biases are far better than others.

    For instance, populist historian Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States) reveals the hidden bias toward the rich, the powerful, and the victors of conventional histories and shares that his own bias is toward the common folk, the oppressed, the disempowered and the unsung heros of ordinary life.

    My bias is toward justice, equity, intellectual honesty, and moral integrity. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether that is a “good” or a “bad” bias.

    My mission, which Crofoot deems to be non-compassionate extremism, is to publicly challenge intellectual dishonesty and moral hypocrisy. Of course, those who challenged slavery or colonialism or gender bias were also considered “extremists”, insufficiently compassionate toward the oppressors, and lacking propriety and good manners. I am happy to be in that company.

    I have no need nor interest in dominating this discussion (I guess Crofoot calls that “hollering”). But I will continue to challenge sloppy arguments, dishonest statements, and hypocrisy (what Fred Howard apparently considers a “pissing contest”), as long as you or others continue “pissing” in public.

    What Fred failed to realize was that it was he who pissed his pants here on this forum. He then got upset with me for merely pointing it out. You “greentangle” resort to sarcasm as a way to avoid a real discussion of issues. At least Plowboy sees through some of this nonsense. We would all do better to rise above such pettiness and engage the issues honestly.

  29. Humans kill animals…lots and lots of animals…from your free range chicken to that grass fed beef…we just feel bad about the whale because they are not all over the place anymore…if the pig was in as short supply we would be running around extolling it’s virtues and morning the death of any sow we tale of

  30. we can hunt deer and kill for trophys but the makah cant kill a whale to honor their traditions in life ? bullcrap someone get a kit kat bar we need a break

  31. I too have immediate reactions to this story, most notably to the reactions of the public to this incident, which seem both predictable, hypocritical, and irrational. Why isn’t there a reaction like this to the conditions under which residents of reservations live, for example? Why do people care more about animals than human beings?

    Americans have a propensity to derive personal importance through acts of “saving” innocents and misplaced moral fervor. That the whale was not allowed to be put out of its misery, despite its obvious suffering illustrates this. It was unfortunate that the gun fell overboard but it was not a malicious act of torture on the hunters part. In fact, it was the hunters who pleaded to relieve the whale’s suffering but were prevented from doing so. After its passing, they honored the animal in ceremony with compassion as tradition and relationship dictates. The outraged public would have never thought to do that. There is a belief through intention in native hunting communities that animals who wish to give themselves to the hunt come forward. In this way, the cycle of life and reciprocity is honored. How many non-native hunters have this relationship with the animals they kill? White men go on safari in Africa slaying equally beautiful and majestic animals for sport alone, but there is no outrage expressed there. I think of all the images of hunters lording over their kills and hanging their heads on the wall.

    Americans have a peculiar perspective on death. One I consider irrational and skewed. Animals die by the millions everyday so they can be consumed. They live terrible lives. They die in thoughtless and cruel ways. If life is so valuable, as expressed in the outrage for a dying whale then this same public must translate that into every aspect of living and dying. The violence expressed toward Mr. Johnson is possible because the public views the Native hunters as “other” than themselves, and therefore can, without threat of shared responsibility or personal implication, seize the opportunity to feel morally viable. Events such as these, like the perfect storm, allow the American public to act from a victim mentality. They perceived the whale as an innocent, victimized by the Native hunters (others), and are reacting from the part of them that feels they too are victims. This is an opportunity for them to persecute and hate and feel justified in doing so.

  32. So Wayne Johnson made a decision, not the greatest one in the world, but he and other members of his community decided to kill a grey whale. As an outside member of the Makah community, I do not have a past of hunting whale, nor would I participate in a whale hunt today. However, the mysterious and fascinating mammal killed in late 2007, is heartbreaking, but understandable. Whale hunting is a part of the Makah’s culture and traditions. Who are we to say, as outside member, that they can not fulfill their desires to participate in a traditional practice. But, what would have happened if the coast guard and the community had not heard the gun shots? Would Wayne Johnson still be in a pile of political and legal mess? The misfiring of the “big gun” changed the lives of those men forever.

  33. I found this article to be rather informative and interesting. The Makah are obviously struggling to maintain or even redefine their cultural identity. That being said, whale hunting has both deep religious and cultural meaning to them. They are trying to keep a tradition alive, yet find themselves in quite the legal mess. It is unfortunate that the whale suffered but the Coast Guard certainly didn’t help matters. I also wonder why other tribes are allowed to continue whaling. Shouldn’t the legislation be the same for everyone?

  34. I found this article very interesting and it gave me new insights into the struggle between not only whale and man but between the tribe and U.S. government. The issue of where the tribes long-standing beliefs and traditions fit in with the world’s present values – that whaling is ‘savage’ and unnecessary. Do we have the right to tell them can’t do certain things when it has been tradition for hundreds of years? On the one hand the tribe hadn’t hunted for decades and had managed to survive without whaling, but it could be in part be due to the original depletion of the greywhale due to the over hunting by Americans that lead to the ban on whaling.
    I also liked how the article highlighted the poverty of the reservation as well as the issue of whaling because they have to be taken into consideration as well, which might be forgotten when talking about a more extreme and isolated incident(s) such as the 1999/2007 whale hunts.

  35. Indeed it is ironic and again indicative of the moral hypocrisy of the majority that in fact the present condition of the whales and the reason for their protected status is in fact due to the overindulgent, glutenous killing of them for profit by Whites earlier in our country’s history. The Natives hunt on a human scale for their own usage and trade. Nature has the means to provide in this way. It was the massive whale-hunting expeditions that threw the whale population out of balance. There are other practices today that are equally as vile and harmful to the natural balance as whale hunting was. The natives are restricted in their ways because Whites see their practices as endangering endangered animals that ironically are only endangered because of the White’s own actions.

  36. I found this article very enlightening but it also gave me mixed feelings about the situation. I agree that the Makah have the right to the Grey Whales and have the right to hunt them because this is part of their traditions and their heritage. I think that if they they have a treaty to hunt these kinds of whale with the US government then the US government should uphold this treaty and make sure that the natives can be able to hunt them. I also think that US government should not step in on someones cutural beliefs like communion and Catholicism (but then again communion is not endagering a species). Then again I think that the there is a limit to both sides. If the whales are endagered or on the verge of becoming extinct then the the Natives should respect the US restrictions on hunting these types of whales. Then by helping the US government and the MMAP getting these animals off the endangered list then they should work out a deal with the US govenrment or with the MMAP to try and work out a quota for how many whales they can hunt each year and how old the whales should be before they hunt them. This way both sides get what they want and thus try and conserve that species. But there are several questions that I have after finishing reading this article. One of those questions is “Why now? Why start whaling when after all these years they have survived without that meat?” I understand that this is part of their culture but what I would think that this tradition has grown out of their moderntrations. There is also the question to why hunting these types of whales are so important. This article didn’t give reason why this whale is important to their culture. Is it just the meat that is important or is there more to it? Overall I think this article is well written and will open the eyes of many other people when they read about this conflict that is equally relatable to other tribes around the US.

  37. This article was certainly insightful to me for it opened my eyes on a culture and issue I had never heard about before. I realize that whales may be a species that is delicate and it is not okay for the Makah to sacrifice a whale, but so many other hunting rituals are very acceptable in our society, what makes this one so much more different? I felt that the loss of one whale is insignificant rather than if it had been many whales. I felt for the Makah society that they had to deal with all of these legal issues that get entangled with their beliefs.

  38. This article was very interesting to say the least. I do feel sorry for the Makah tribe in the sense that whaling has been a part of its culture. However, I do feel that it is unfair to grant the Makah the right to hunt whales and tell others that it is illegal. The Coast Guard did act rather harshly with regard to the situation, and I think that it could have been handled without discrediting the reputation of the Makah

  39. As a native Washingtonian, the Makah are an unique and interesting tribe that has longed for meaning of what their ancestors called Whaling. It was great to read about the Makah in a compassionate testimony about their recent (1999 and 2007) mishaps as whalers. The Makah has very little to be proud of….stuck out on a small parcel of land with little or no vegetation, means of living and lost heritage. The courts ruling against the tribe is another indication of the lack of cultural sensitivity to their heritage and means of spiritial exsistance. It is a shame to live in a State that still ok with keeping the minority cultures down.

  40. This article was very interesting and something that I had no previous knowledge of. I am torn on the issue of whaling because I understand the governments striving to protect the species. Also I understand the Makah who are whalers by trade and they have done this for many years. Whaling is part of their culture and way of life. It is hard to grant this one culture the right to hunt for whales while stopping everyone else so I understand the coast guards position. The Makah did not cause the problem but they have to deal with the results unfortunately.

  41. This article is an intriguing look into the battle of the past versus the present. The Makah people have deep roots in their whale hunting practices, but have abandoned them for 70 years. However, this does not exclude them from a cultural revival. It is evident in their tough economic times that whale hunting may once again be economically beneficial and the treaty ensures them the right to this benefit. The Makah’s hunting methods and frequency of hunting may have changed from their ancestors, but this does not exclude the tradition from present times. Their opponents challenge them to live in the present and forget their savage ways, but this is just like any other part of the country that hunts for food. Deer hunting is not frowned upon because the deer are seen as a nuisance and over abundant. Just because whales are seen as more “majestic” and dont bother people does not mean the Makah must lose their right to hunt these mammals. If restriction and regulations are placed on hunting frequency and hunting methods, then the Makah’s treaty should be upheld and they should be allowed to hunt, just as countless other animals across the country are hunted for food.

  42. This is difficult situation with a lot of gray area. I ultimately feel that the Makah have the right to decide whether to continue whaling or not. They should look at all the factors involved including the importance of whaling to their history and cultural identity, the negativity and bad press that arising from their whaling and their effects on the tribe, and ultimately make a decision on whaling that best suits their interests. I do believe that the group responsible for the 2007 killing must be sanctioned in some form and deserve some punishment for their actions. Another important point to take into consideration is that the Makah seemed to survive throughout much of the 20th century without whaling as a part of their culture. This would seem to indicate that whaling does not have to remain a vital part of their society. But in the end, the Makah must decide what is more important to them, continuing to whale for historical and cultural purposes, or ridding their tribe of negative press and outlook from outsiders. The tribe must make an informed decision that is best for all of its members.

  43. It is my opinion that the Makah should have the right to hunt whales. The United States entered into a treaty with these people and it should be honored. The Makah stopped whaling when the whales were endangered, and are simply asking to be permitted to exercise their rights as granted by a treaty formed with the United States. The Makah were doomed by being forced to try a case in front of the Ninth Circuit, and the decision should be appealed to a court that will uphold the laws as they are written, rather than bend the laws to make a political stand. There is no precedent for breaking a treaty in any United States laws, and the Makah’s treaty should be honored just like any other.

  44. This is a very difficult argument dealing with the the history of how once tribe used to live their lives. Their whaling traditions are both ritualistic and used for means of subsistence. When this part of their is taken away from their society, it takes away part of the community and their pasts. Ultimately, the Makah should not have had their whaling practices taken away, which had been given to them through a treaty. For a struggling society, living off the bare minimums, they should be able to practice any sort of hunting for subsistence. It is an unfortunate situation in which a community is suffering because an unfair court ruling.

  45. This article raises the same sorts of questions that many tribal or spiritual rituals do. Are we as a unified people to allow specific groups of people to carry on with traditional practices if they interfere with the environment or personal safety? Though this is a very controversial issue which is constantly addressed, I believe the line is very fine. If the Makah people are allowed to continue whaling, they will perhaps deplete the whale population greatly and have even greater, worse effects on the marine environment as a whole. But if we do not allow them to continue, the essence of the Makah people (what they stand for, believe, and practice) will unquestionably be wiped away. If I were a world leader, I would assert that they be restricted in their whaling, but not so much that it interferes with the lifestyles they have been living for many years.

  46. This is a very difficult situation surrounding the Makah village. Their ancient customs and traditions of whale hunting have been threatened by the United States government after violating a longstanding treaty that dates back to the mid 19th century. The Makah feel short-sided because written treaties are suppose to last forever unless both sides agree to modify the respected treaty. However, I feel as though both parties should come together to agree on management policies to preserve these animals forever. Examples include establishing a selected season in which to hunt, establish territories in which to hunt and finally putting a limit on how many whales can been killed each season.

  47. This article provides insight into a tough situation concerning personal identity. First of all, I cannot pretend to understand the beliefs of the Makah. It is difficult to remove yourself from beliefs and attitudes that you have been raised with in order to look at a situation from another perspective. And this whaling situation seems to be asking just this when concerning moral and legal decisions. The Makah have already had many different traditions and beliefs imposed upon them, and this issue just adds to it. Unless the whale population is in danger or anyone else is in danger of being harmed, I do not see a problem with regulated whale hunting by specific groups of people.

  48. I believe that this issue is very commonly seen in native tribes. Surrounding populations are ignorant of the important traditions so, they often view the unknown in a negative light. Knowing this, a common ground could probably be found with both parties. Although the whale killing is very sacred to them, they could maybe limit the amount of hunting even more. By doing this, the hunt can truly be appreciated and become more sacred than before because it is a tradition done very rarely. I hope this issue can be solved very soon because issues like these should not be so prominent in America. This country is suppose to be a melting pot of cultures, so accept every belief within.

  49. The article tries to attack a sensitive and a complex aspect of a cultural tradition. Since whale hunting has been part of the Makha tradition for so many years, culturally it makes sense for them to continue that habit. The Makah signed the Treaty of Neah Bay in 1855. The treaty guarantees them the right to whale, and they are the only American Indian tribe to have secured themselves such a right. They stopped for a time when the gray whale was endangered, but, after it was delisted in 1994, they asked to start again. Therefore, the treaty should be honored. Therefore, the treay should be honored. The idea is that because their ancestors hunted whales, they therefore should be allowed to hunt whales and further continue their tradition

  50. Even though the gray whale has been de-listed from the endangered species list the tribe should wait till it has been declared okay to hunt again. It has barely been over a decade since the whale has been de-listed, and scientists may fear that the populations, while not low enough to be endangered, could still be at a fragile number. The tribe has gotten along fine without whale hunting while it has been on the endangered species list so they should continue to be okay until the gray whale has increased in number.

  51. The Makah tribe has a treaty to hunt whales. If any one wants to dispute the treaty, let them move off their land and return it to their rightful owners: Native Americans. If you want to bleed your heart about whales then lose your land first. Orcas hunt whales. Do you want to stop Orcas from killing gray whales? You bleeding hearts have no right to end the treaty with the Makah people. It is either they hunt whales or they get back all the land.Give them back the entire Olympic Peninsula.It is their land.

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