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Makah Indians And Whaling Essay Research Paper

Makah Indians And Whaling Essay, Research Paper The Makah Indian Whaling: Indigenous Right or Environmental Injustice by xxxxx Abstract For hundreds of centuries, the Makah Indians have

Makah Indians And Whaling Essay, Research Paper

The Makah Indian Whaling: Indigenous Right or

Environmental Injustice

by xxxxx

Abstract

For hundreds of centuries, the Makah Indians have

revolved their culture and traditions around whaling. It

has been part of their tradition as long as the tribe has

ever existed. In the early part of this century the Makah

voluntarily abandoned the whale hunt in recognition of the

precarious situation of the gray whale. When the whale

was listed as an endangered species in 1969 the hunt was

officially banned. The Makah were formally forced to give

up whaling. After seventy years, however, the Makah are

once again in a position to whale. They wish to do so on

the basis of the importance of whaling to their traditional culture. This wish, however, is highly controversial. It is has stirred up much dissent among numerous groups including the International Whaling Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and numerous animal rights groups. Even the Makah themselves are not fully united on this issue of whaling. This paper examines the importance of the whale hunt to Makah culture and discusses the changing nature of tradition. The question is presented as to whether the Makah are reestablishing tradition or simply pursuing a viable commercial opportunity.

Introduction

The Makah Indians are indigenous to what is now

Washington State. Their population is small; only about

two thousand people are on the tribal rolls (The

Economist, 1998). Their traditional culture, like all

indigenous groups, was completely toppled by the arrival

and eventual dominance of non-Native, European groups to

this continent during the fifteenth and sixteenth

centuries. Makah tradition included, as one of its core

components, many of the same hunting and gathering

practices employed by other indigenous peoples. Much of

their livelihood and material culture was based on their

extensive whale hunting activities. In 1928, recognizing

the precarious status of the whale population the Makah

voluntarily abandoned their tribal tradition and gave up

whale hunting (Russell, 1999). In 1969, however, the

whale hunt was officially taken from the Makah with its

placement on the endangered species list (Blow, 1998).

Without the whale hunt the Makah became even more

distanced from their traditional culture. It was a

distance which they both resented and sought to change.

It was a distance which environmentalist justified on the

basis of the endangered status of the whale. One of the

most adamant opponents of restored whaling is the Sea

Shepherd Society, a 45,000 member organization whose efforts to protect the whale sometimes border on terroristic (Strohm, 1999; The Economist, 1998).

The High North Alliance is also another vociferous

opponent to restored Makah whaling (High North). They

maintain an extensive web site on the subject which

contrasts tradition and what they consider greed. This

clash between the Makah view and the environmentalist

views are prominent.

The Literature

Much has been written in recent years regarding

indigenous rights and the Makah whale hunt in particular.

The popular literature is replete with the subject, as is

the environmental literature. A quick search on the

Internet reveals numerous hits as well for web pages which

are devoted to either the cultural plight of the Makah or

the plight of the whale. This paper will concentrate on

the material presented in the environmental literature and

on the material presented on the World Wide Web.

With the removal of the gray whale from the

endangered species list in 1994, whale hunting is once

again a possibility in Makah culture. It is, however, a

possibility which is greatly resented and contested by

environmentalists (Russell, 1999). Despite the protest of these environmentalists and the fact that the International

Whaling Commission has yet to recognize the indigenous

cultural rights of the Makah to the whale hunt, the

Clinton administration granted permission for the Makah to

resume their traditional whale hunting activities (Strohm,

1999). This permission was granted despite the protest

from a number of interest groups. Even the Makah are not

completely united on the issue of whaling (Russell, 1999).

Several of their tribal members have, in fact, been quite

outspoken against resuming whale hunting. One of the most

adamant opponents to whaling who also happens to be Makah

herself is seventy-four year old Alberta Thompson.

Thompson has adamantly defended the whales and spoken out

against hunting (Russell, 1999). She states:

“My dream is that I wake up one morning and

the Tribal Council has called a conference to

make a statement: we now realize that the whale

gave up his life for us a hundred years ago so

that we could eat. Now we want to honor and

protect the whale until the end of time”

(Russell, 1999).

The issue over the resumption of Makah whale hunting

it seems is divided between those that want to maintain

Indian tradition and those that want to maintain the whale

population. Both sides have valid arguments, both arguments are the extensive target of a variety of literature.

Discussion

Although the gray whale population has been restored

to a less threatened population level it still seems

somewhat of an injustice to kill such a phenomenally

impressive creature. There are of course more justifiable

commercial substitutes for practically every product the

whale produces. What there isn’t a substitute for,

however, is the role that the gray whale hunt played in

Makah tradition.

There is no arguing the fact that the whale hunt was

of tremendous importance to Makah tradition. The Makah

were a people of oral tradition. They had no written

language prior to the arrival of the Europeans to their

homelands but never-the-less they were able to maintain

their history and their culture from one generation to the

next. Because the Makah had not developed a written

method for recording information, they depended heavily on

oral history both to remember information which was

critical to their survival and to remember their complex

social and cultural moral practice. Much of the oral history of the Makah revolves around the traditional whale hunt. One of the earliest Makah legends relates the story

of the all-powerful Thunderbird who ruled the universe

(Russell, 1999). The Thunderbird was so powerful that it

could hunt the great whale, lifting it from the water and

carrying it to its roost to be devoured (Russell, 1999).

According to the legend, the privilege of the whale hunt

passed to the Makah people with the death of the great

Thunderbird (Russell, 1999).

The whale hunt to the Makah was not taken lightly.

It was a deeply religious experience which took one year

of spiritual preparation for an individual to participate

(Russell, 1999). Preparation for the hunt included

prayer, fasting, sexual abstinence, icy plunges into the

waters which surround the Makah homelands, and even an

underwater walk from one bank of the Waatch River to the

other carrying a large rock to ensure that a potential

participant stayed submerged for the entire walk (Russell,

1999). The Makah had to “become one with the whale” in

order to participate in the hunt (Russell, 1999).

Anthropologists contend that these ceremonial preparations

have been carried on for at least 1,500 years by the Makah and their ancestors (Russell,1999).

The argument that the Makah are entitled to the whale

hunt is more than tradition, however. By treaty the Makah

were awarded the right to the whale hunt (Russell, 1999).

With their 1855 treaty the Makah gave up almost all that

they had but they were ensured the right to the whale

(Russell, 1999). Many Makah argue that a return to their

traditional ways is necessary for the physical as well as

religious health of the people (Russell, 1999). Keith

Johnson, the chairman of the Makah Whaling Commission

notes:

“Many of our tribal members feel that our

health problems result from the loss of our

traditional seafood and sea mammal diet. We also

believe that the problems troubling our young

people stem from lack of discipline and pride.

And we hope that resuming whaling will help

restore that” (Russell, 1999).

The only chance of survival for the hundreds of

Native American cultures is tradition. Being a people

whose histories were recorded orally until only recently

in history, tradition is rooted in the memory of the

people. In the Makah memory tradition is the whale hunt.

To the environmentalist the whale hunt is where it

belongs, in the memory. The whale hunt to them is nothing

but commercial exploitation, killing for a profit. Indeed, there is a profit in whaling. The Makah have shown interest in this profit. They have looked at foreign markets and they have explored the possibility of a processing plant in which foreign markets would have

been a definite possibility (Russell, 1999). Whale meat

it seems means more to the Makah than simple tradition.

It is a means of addressing the reservations sometimes

seventy-five percent unemployment rate and it is a bridge

from the past to the future.

Currently the Makah are allotted only four whales a

year for the next five years (Strohm, 1999). Those who

favor the Makah view that whaling is their innate right

contend that four whales a year could not possibly impact

the whale population which is estimated at twenty-five

thousand individuals (Russell, 1999). While it may be

conceded that this number is indeed small and unlikely to

directly impact the whale population, the real concern

lies in the precedent which will be set by the allotment

(Russell, 1999). The United States, in fact, is not the

only country who has expressed an interest nor are the

Makah the only indigenous people (Makah Whaling Commission). The Chukotka people of Russia have expressed

an interest along with the Makah in traditional rights to

the whale (Makah Whaling Commission). Russell (1999)

reports that indigenous people of eighteen other countries

have endorsed “commercial activities related to the

sustainable use of whales”.

Conclusions

The issues surround the rights of the Makah to whale

hunt are numerous and complex. It is true that whale

hunting was an integral part of their traditional culture.

It is also true, however, that traditional cultures

change. Sometimes these changes are negative but

sometimes they can be very positive. The Makah have

existed without whale hunting for over seventy years.

Those who do remember the whale hunting days remember them

only as children or only through the early histories of

their ancestors. The questions which must be addressed

regarding the controversy is exactly what is it that the

Makah hope to attain by restoring the hunt. Although

their preparations include the wooden canoes that were the

tradition of their people (The Economist, 1998), do they

include the wooden bone pointed harpoons and hand corded

lines that were a part of their traditional culture as

well or do they include the modern equipment of the modern

whaler (High North)? How many of the potential hunters

have made the one years worth of spiritual preparation

that tradition dictates (High North)? How many have

walked underwater from one river bank to another? These

are the questions which must be addressed if the Makah

contention of following their traditional culture is to be

either supported or refuted.

Blow, Richard. (1998, Sep-Oct). The great American whale

hunt. (Makah Indian tribe of Neah Bay, Washington,

plans to revive whale-hunting tradition). Mother

Jones, v23 n5 p49(7)

Booth, Anne; Jacobs, Harvey M., “Ties That Bind: Native American Beliefs as a Foundation for Environmental Consciousness,” Environmental Ethics 12.1 (1991):27

De Alessi, Chad, “Tender Loving Hunters,” New Scientist 150.2035 (1996):47

The Economist. (1998, Nov 21). To catch a whale. (Makah

tribe’s dubious permission from the International

Whaling Commission to kill five migrating gray whales

produces mass protests). The Economist, p31(1)

Makah Whaling Commission. Management Plan for Makah

Treaty Gray Whale Hunting for the Years 1998-2002.

http://www.conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahplan.html

Pascua, Maria Parker, “Ozette: A Makah Village,” National Geographic 180.4 (1991):38

Russell, Dick. (1999, Spring). Tribal tradition and the

spirit of the trust. (organization allowed resumption

of gray whale hunting). The Amicus

Journal, v21 i1 p29(4)

Strohm, Mike. (1999, Jan). The Battle of Neah Bay.

(natives’ right to whale under dispute). Audubon,

v101 i1 p18(1)

Websites

High North. Arguments, Facts and News. http://www.highnorth.no/default.htm

Whales and West-Coast Natives

http:\\whales.magna.com.au/Policies/makah.html

The Makah Indians: Keeping their Culture Alive

http:\\www.highnorth.no/th-ma-in.htm

Makah Whaling Claim Supported by U.S. Authorities

http:\\www.highnorth.no/ma-wh-cl.htm

Whaling- A Part of Our Culture

http:\\www.highnorth.no/wh-a-pa.htm

Might Whale meat Once Again Find a Place on the Menu?

http:\\www.highnorth.no/mi.me.htm

Should the Makah Tribe be Allowed to Resume the Hunting of Grey Whales

http:\\www.highnorth.no/th-ma-co.htm

The Makah Whaling Dance

http:\\www.highnorth.no/ma-wh-da.htm

An Open Letter to the Public

http:\\www.conbio.rice.edu/mae/docs/makaheditorial.html

Management Plan

http:\\www.conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahplan.html

The Makah Indian Tribed Whaling

http:\\www. conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahfag.html

Cetacean Society International

http:\\www.elfi.com/csi99101.html

Cetacean Society International

http:\\www.elfi.com/csi98401.html

Makah Whaling Rights

http:\\www.weber.u.whashington.edu./_rural/fieldnotes/neahbayfield.html

Bibliography

Blow, Richard. (1998, Sep-Oct). The great American whale

hunt. (Makah Indian tribe of Neah Bay, Washington,

plans to revive whale-hunting tradition). Mother

Jones, v23 n5 p49(7)

Booth, Anne; Jacobs, Harvey M., “Ties That Bind: Native American Beliefs as a Foundation for Environmental Consciousness,” Environmental Ethics 12.1 (1991):27

De Alessi, Chad, “Tender Loving Hunters,” New Scientist 150.2035 (1996):47

The Economist. (1998, Nov 21). To catch a whale. (Makah

tribe’s dubious permission from the International

Whaling Commission to kill five migrating gray whales

produces mass protests). The Economist, p31(1)

Makah Whaling Commission. Management Plan for Makah

Treaty Gray Whale Hunting for the Years 1998-2002.

http://www.conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahplan.html

Pascua, Maria Parker, “Ozette: A Makah Village,” National Geographic 180.4 (1991):38

Russell, Dick. (1999, Spring). Tribal tradition and the

spirit of the trust. (organization allowed resumption

of gray whale hunting). The Amicus

Journal, v21 i1 p29(4)

Strohm, Mike. (1999, Jan). The Battle of Neah Bay.

(natives’ right to whale under dispute). Audubon,

v101 i1 p18(1)

Websites

High North. Arguments, Facts and News. http://www.highnorth.no/default.htm

Whales and West-Coast Natives

http:\\whales.magna.com.au/Policies/makah.html

The Makah Indians: Keeping their Culture Alive

http:\\www.highnorth.no/th-ma-in.htm

Makah Whaling Claim Supported by U.S. Authorities

http:\\www.highnorth.no/ma-wh-cl.htm

Whaling- A Part of Our Culture

http:\\www.highnorth.no/wh-a-pa.htm

Might Whale meat Once Again Find a Place on the Menu?

http:\\www.highnorth.no/mi.me.htm

Should the Makah Tribe be Allowed to Resume the Hunting of Grey Whales

http:\\www.highnorth.no/th-ma-co.htm

The Makah Whaling Dance

http:\\www.highnorth.no/ma-wh-da.htm

An Open Letter to the Public

http:\\www.conbio.rice.edu/mae/docs/makaheditorial.html

Management Plan

http:\\www.conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahplan.html

The Makah Indian Tribed Whaling

http:\\www. conbio.rice.edu/nae/docs/makahfag.html

Cetacean Society International

http:\\www.elfi.com/csi99101.html

Cetacean Society International

http:\\www.elfi.com/csi98401.html

Makah Whaling Rights

http:\\www.weber.u.whashington.edu./_rural/fieldnotes/neahbayfield.html

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