The Makah Whaling Conflict:
Makah Whaling Conflict
Table of Contents
Along with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island, the Makah were once renowned whale hunters. For thousands of years, leaders of extended family lineages organized the hunts, which brought the hunters great prestige and demanded much of them both physically and spiritually. From the earliest times, the Makah met their subsistence needs through trade with neighboring peoples as far south as the Columbia River and far north along Vancouver Island. One of the valuable trade goods they produced was whale meat and oil. As early as 1789, the Makah found a new market when European trade ships came to trade sea-otter skins for copper. They eventually sold whale oil to the Hudson Bay Company in Victoria (over 30,000 gallons in one year during the 1870s). The Treaty of Neah Bay, negotiated hastily by the Makah with the Governor of Washington Territory in 1855, reflects the importance of whaling. The treaty provided that The right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the United States
Knowing that settlers depended on Makah whaling goods, the Governor assured the Makah that the US would aid them in pursuing commercial hunting.
Their successful adaptation of traditional subsistence activities to new market conditions helped the Makah to resist attempts at assimilation. They participated in international commercial markets for whales, seals and later, halibut, activities that gave them the economic independence to resist government attempts to turn them into farmers. Still, attempts to limit their access to land and resources threatened the Makahs ability to respond to colonization and their ability to survive as a people. The Fur Seal Convention of 1911 limited native seal hunting to boats without engines. In the first part of the twentieth century, Native Americans were passed over for cannery jobs and shut out of the commercial fishery. In the 1960s and 1970s the Makah had to fend off an attempt by environmentalists to annex the Makah village of Ozette as part of Olympic National Park. The Makah gained control of Ozette only after agreeing to maintain its wild and scenic values. Finally, despite their treaty fishing rights, Washington state game wardens harassed Native Americans for fishing without licenseslicenses the state would not issue to them because they were not US citizens (until 1924). Only after numerous court cases was it affirmed in US vs. Washington (1973) that Northwest Coast tribes have a treaty right to take half the annual commercial catch of many fish species, including salmon. When the Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1979, the Makah and other tribes co-managed the salmon and other fisheries with the state and federal governments through the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission.
The struggle over salmon fishing occurred in the context of a Makah cultural renaissance. An important event in the 1970s was the excavation of Ozette village, eventually leading to the recovery of over 50,000 artifacts. The Makah took a renewed interest in their language and culture during the excavation, expressed in the establishment of the Makah Cultural and Research Center. Nevertheless, Ozette village, the museum, their treaty rights, traditional songs and storiesall of these pointed back to the Makahs identity as whalers. After struggling to regain their right to participate in several fisheries as well as sea mammal hunting, whaling was a next logical step. Keith Johnson (Makah Whaling Commission) has said, No one can say we dont have the right to whale, or that we are not a whaling people
Its who we are.
Whales had been decimated by commercial whaling at the turn of the century, forcing the Makah to give up whaling in the 1920s. The last documented Makah whale hunt occurred in 1926. In 1946 the US signed the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The ICRW established an International Whaling Commission (the IWC) to regulate the whaling industry. The IWCs purpose is not to end whaling, but rather to manage it in order to provide for the conservation, development and optimum utilization of the whale resources taking into consideration the interests of the consumers of whale products and the whaling industry. Still, whale populations continued to decline. Gray whales dropped from a historic population of 30,000 to several thousand early in the twentieth century (prompting the US to place grays on the endangered species list in 1969). During the course of the century, whale populations have made a slow recovery as the IWC increased its protection measures, most recently with a ban on commercial whaling in 1986. These conservation efforts have allowed whale populations to recover to historic levels. Gray whales are currently estimated to be about 2627,000 in number with an annual population growth of 2½%. The sustainable yield for this species has been estimated by the IWC to be from 407670 individuals per year, much higher than the current total quota of 124 individuals.