Monday, May 19, 2008

The Makah, Whales, and Animal Rights Activists

The Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean have always provided the Makah with the bounty necessary for their survival. Makah villages, complete with large longhouses, stretched along the northwestern coast and islands of the continental United States. Just as the Inuit and Yupik Eskimo of the arctic and sub-artic continue to do today, the Makah people traveled to numerous summer villages and camps to be closer to their traditional fishing, whaling, and food gathering areas. And, just as with the other indigenous peoples, the Makah have continued to have a great understanding of the environment and respect for the plants and animals that provide them with sustenance.

By the late 1700’s, thousands of tribal members had died from epidemics of smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza and whooping cough that had been introduced by Europeans. Continuing outbreaks of smallpox in 1852 further diminished the southernmost Makah villages. Realizing that their hunting and land rights had to be protected from the onslaught of Europeans and the United States government, 42 Makah leaders signed a treaty with the government on 31 January, 1855. Known as the Treaty of Neah Bay, the treaty specifically allowed the Makah to retain their traditional hunting and fishing practices in exchange for 300,000 acres that were ceded to the government. At the same time, the Makah continued to resist assimilation attempts by the government, Indian agents, missionaries, and educators. They suffered under federal laws against potlatches, ceremonies, and speaking the Makah language (a member of the Wakashan language family).

Although the Treaty of Neah Bay allowed the Makah to continue their whaling, the environmentally conscious Makah voluntarily suspended their whale hunts in 1920 when international commercial whaling decimated the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population. This was a full 26 years before the International Whaling Commission was established and the gray whale bans that followed. It was a full 50 years before gray whales were listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Conservation Act. The actions of the Makah alone, long before any agency, represent their concern over the existence of the gray whale as part of their traditional culture.

The Eastern North Pacific gray whales were removed from the Federal Endangered Species List on 16 June, 1994. The following year, on 5 May, 1995, the Makah formally notified the U.S. government of their interest in resuming their treaty subsistence and ceremonial rights in taking gray whales. They asked that the government represent the tribe in seeking an annual quota from the International Whaling Commission. In 1998, the District Court for the Western District of Washington granted a judgment through NOAA Fisheries that the Makah could resume whaling, and in 1999 the Makah landed a gray whale. Immediately following were a series of reversals and denials of wavers submitted by the Makah, which still affect the ability of the Makah to resume their cultural practices today.

It’s important to note that while the Makah have been prevented by the U.S. government from harvesting the gray whale, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling recognizes aboriginal whaling as a category distinct from commercial whaling and exempt from the current moratorium on commercial whaling. The ICRW specifically states that the International Whaling Commission may not allocate specific quotas to any particular nationality or group of whalers. Because of this prohibition, the IWC sets an overall aboriginal subsistence harvest for the relevant stock, based on the request of Contracting Governments on behalf of aboriginal hunters. In the case of the Makah, this is the U.S. government.

The major adversaries aligned against the Makah in the attempt to resume their traditional and ceremonial whaling hunt are numerous environmental organizations. These include organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the Church of the Earth, Prince of Whales, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and the Humane Society of the United States. Besides filing court cases against the Makah, activists continue their rhetoric such as “I don't believe all traditions should be respected. If they don't need the meat, then why don't they just go out and touch the whale? If this need is truly spiritual, then why should the remedy be nutritional?"

Activists threaten the hunt by blocking canoes, scaring whales, and threatening Makah whalers. The Sea Shepard Conservation Society has used the massive 180 foot length and 687 ton enforcement ship, “Ocean Warrior“, with a one inch thick riveted steel hull ; a former U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat, the Sirenian; and a 6-ton submarine, the Mirage, to disrupt the hunt. The media also gets into the act, hovering around the hunt in order to send pictures of dead whales around the world and spread misinformation about Makah cultural practices. For example, the media has called the single shot high powered 50- caliber rifle that is used along with the thrust of the harpoon to kill the whale more humanely a “machine-gun”.

All of this is another case of non-Indians knowing what is better for the Indian than the Indians themselves. This is also in despite of the fact that the Makah were the first to realize and act upon the decline of the gray whale because of commercial whaling, and despite that fact that the Makah have created their own Marine Mammal Management Program into its Fisheries Management Office. The Tribe has a full-time, permanent marine mammal biologist, who conducts research and coordinates management efforts with local and national organizations such as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Tribe’s Marine Mammal program has also made important contributions to international efforts to protect and manage whale populations worldwide.

The Makah are not seeking to strike and land an unlimited number of gray whales. They are requesting to be allowed to take five whales a year, one whale for each of the five traditional Makah villages which were consolidated during the early years of the treaty reservation. They have more than shown their ability to be involved in the management of it’s resources for over a thousand years, and their ability to maintain a functional balance with the gray and humpback whales.
Yet, the tremendous pressures brought forth by national and international environmental and animal rights organizations prevents them from doing so.

Fortunately, the public has a chance to remedy this wrong that is being done to the Makah. The National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA is holding hearings on a draft environmental impact statement that addresses the Tribe’s request to resume hunting for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Based on hearing results, the NMFS will decide whether to issue a permit to the tribe. A similar permit has been granted to several Alaskan Native villages, which don't have a treaty protecting their hunt.

Hearings are to be held 28 May , 6:30 - 9:30 p.m. at the Vern Burton Memorial Community Center, 308 East 4th St., Port Angeles, Washington; 2 June, 2008, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m., Lake Union Park Armory-Great Hall, 860 Terry Ave. North, Seattle, Washington; and 5 June, 2008, 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., NOAA Auditorium, 1301 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland.

It’s guaranteed that the environmental and animal activist groups will flood the hearings with an orchestrated full blown attack on the Makah. The call has gone out for a massive response to the comment period in order to derail any positive results for the Tribe. While environmental concerns must be met, they cannot be allowed to override either common sense or the well being of American Indians. Nor can they be allowed to arbitrarily disregard a formal treaty between a Tribe and the U.S. government.

The requested five whales a year will have little impact on the current gray whale estimated population of between 20,000 and 26,000. It is also far below the allotted quota of 620 gray whales over a five year period that is given to the Chukotka people of Russia, on the behest of the Russian government’s request to the IWC. Nor does it begin to touch the number of gray whales that die yearly, many of starvation.

Those, both Indian and non-Indian alike, who have a concern in the preservation of American Indian cultures and the spiritual and physical well being of American Indians need to respond to the chance to support the Makah people. Written comments by e-mail or letter should be sent to arrive before the 8 July deadline.

Submit written comments to: Steve Stone, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region, 1201 NE Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100, Portland, OR 97232. Comments may also be submitted via fax, 503-230-5441, Attn: 2008 Makah DEIS. E-mail comments should have the subject line of “2008 Makah DEIS” and may be sent to:

Should we fail to respond in support of the Makah, we also fail in helping to repair failed treaties and the strengthening of the American Indian peoples - both physically and in spirit. We cannot allow big money environmental and animal activist organizations to control what the American Indian can or cannot do. The U.S. government does enough of that already.


Anonymous said...

It is unconscionable to permit ANYONE or ANY GROUP to kill a whale, regardless of cultural history. This is a new day, a new paradigm and a new ecology. The devastation that has been wrought upon this earth and it's innocent wildlife is a travesty of the worst possible kind. What could be more horrible than killing intelligent, sensitive mammals who have done us no harm, just because you used to do it?

There is NO justification for such incomprehensible behavior regardless of your whimpering. The Makah have proved to be untrustworthy, lying, ungrateful humans who fined the man who 'JUST FELT LIKE KILLING A WHALE', $20. If that's what the Makah think a whale's life is worth then I think the Makah are worth even less.

The tribe is dishonorable, their court is dishonorable, they should all go the way of the dinosaur.

There MUST be no indigenous rights any longer. The Gray whale that Wayne Johnson slaughtered, took hours and hours to die and then sank to the bottom of the sea never to be retrieved... Opprobrious and unforgivable. The entire event proves without a shadow of doubt that the Makah cannot be trusted to do anything that has respect or honor for the earth and other living beings upon it.

Here's the truth of the matter.

05/15/2008 printer-friendly version
How much is a Whale Worth?
$20 Bucks According to the Makah Tribal Court

This was the lead paragraph of the story in the Seattle Times today:

“They promised tough prosecution, but in the end the Makah Nation couldn't put together a jury to try five whalers who were charged with illegally killing a gray whale off Neah Bay last fall.

Tribal Judge Stanley Myers on Wednesday instead granted the men one-year deferred prosecution and promised to dismiss the charges if they committed no offenses during that time. The whalers also were each ordered to pay a $20 fine.”

Twenty Dollars! These men viciously and illegally slaughtered a defenseless Gray whale. The whale took over ten hours to die, choking on its own blood, thrashing about in pain until its body finally sank to the ocean floor, never to be recovered.

Ten hours of agonizing suffering for which the unrepentant killers had to pay $2 per hour.

Last fall after Wayne Johnson and his fellow whale killers were arrested, the Makah Tribal Council held a news conference and promised a swift and just punishment if convicted.

Last September the Makah issued a statement to the media that said; "We are a law-abiding people and we will not tolerate lawless conduct by any of our members."

Obviously the Makah tribe is not capable of rendering justice in an impartial manner.

Former Sea Shepherd Crewmember Dan Spomer wrote today:

“Let’s say that your name is Wayne Johnson, you are a Makah tribal member, and, even though barred from doing so by a Federal Court order, you had an urge to kill a gray whale, jumped into a boat and just blasted one with your rifle over and over and over again. It’s just something you HAD to do.

Hours later, the whale was struggling to survive, blood thick on the water. Much later, the whale died, painfully sinking into the depths of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You’re taken into custody, you’ve dishonored your Tribe and basically demonstrated to the entire world your disregard for the rule of law. Outrage follows as the world learns of the deed.

What penalty would you expect to face in Makah Tribal Court? Imprisonment? Steep fines? A harsh sentence?


Today, the Makah Tribal Court sentenced the five Makah tribal members involved in the outrageous, illegal September hunt.

They were fined twenty dollars each.

The whale killers have also been indicted in the federal court and face up to a year in jail and $100,000 fines. In the end, federal prosecutors offered a plea deal that meant no jail time as part of a settlement that included the tribe waiving its prosecution in tribal court.

Three of the whalers took the deal, and sentencing in federal court is set for June. Two other whalers refused to plead guilty and were found guilty by the judge in Tacoma, Washington. They are appealing the conviction but also face sentencing in June, including fines and possibly community service, but very likely no jail time.

Last month, the Makah tribal judge refused to honor the federal plea deal and instead ordered all five whalers to stand trial in Neah Bay.

Johnson said yesterday he would have gladly faced trial and would have appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend his treaty rights to kill a whale. Asked whether he'd do it any differently if he could do it over, he answered, "I'd land the whale on the beach."

These Makah whalers have demonstrated total contempt for the law, for the whales and for many of the Elders of their own tribe. The only part of the traditional whaling they are seeking to preserve is the killing. No rituals, no sacrifices, no traditional methods – just a big .50 calibre gun, power boats, wetsuits and a redneck desire to kill sum’thin.

A public comment period is now under way on a federal draft environmental-impact statement on the tribe's proposal to legally whale under their treaty. A public hearing is scheduled in Seattle on June 2. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be sending a representative to oppose the Makah application to legally slaughter whales.

“This is the 21st Century,” said Captain Paul Watson. “The barbarism of whaling by Japan, Norway, Iceland and the Makah must be ended. It’s time to celebrate life with the whales after centuries of horrific abuse. Wayne Johnson is a common thug who has contemptuously dismissed the concerns of his own Elders and who has given the finger to his own Tribal Council and for $20 he thinks he can now go back to the beach and pump lead into another defenseless whale. We need to stop him.”

Anonymous said...

I hope you have the fairness to post my prior comment. It's hardly a blog if you edit the material now is it?

ThreeOaks said...

“I hope you have the fairness to post my prior comment. It's hardly a blog if you edit the material now is it?”

Actually, I’m quite pleased that you found my blog and made your comment. It strengthens my point that those against the Makah whaling have absolutely no understanding or interest in the preservation of the culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples of this continent. As for this not being a blog if material is edited (which I won’t do), sure it is. A blog is nothing more than comments by an individual on various subjects. Some blogs, like mine, allow anyone to comment. Other blogs restrict comments to those who sign up, and still other blogs allow no comments at all. No matter which, they all remain blogs. I do reserve the right to moderate comments and decide if I will allow them. This is because of past experience with comments containing sexually explicit material, extreme hate comments, or comments that are just plain unintelligible gibberish. I won’t subject my readers to these. Finally, this is my blog and I will do what I want with it.