The Makah Whaling Conflict:
Makah Whaling Conflict
Table of Contents
The current Save the Whales movement involves marine conservation organizations, animal rights organizations, the whale-watching industry and anti-treaty constituents. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has spearheaded the anti-whaling campaign. The organization reports 40,000 members an annual budget up to a million dollars. Approximately 250 animal rights groups and 27 conservation organizations have also opposed the hunt, although Sierra Club and Greenpeace have not (Greenpeace received strong criticism for the impact of their anti-sealing campaign on Inuit communities in the 1970s). Other groups oppose the hunt partly because of economic interest (the whale-watching industry is an $8-10 million industry in Washington state alone), and partly because of hostility toward Indian treaty rights. Representative Metcalf, who circulated a petition against the hunt at the IWC meetings, has long been an opponent of treaty rights as special rights. Beyond this opposition, Metcalfs environmental record and philosophy make him an unusual ally for the anti-whaling movement. Metcalf considers himself a conservationist rather than an environmentalist, and he normally opposes the preservation of natural resources (the League of Conservation Voters gives Metcalf a voting record on environmental issues of only 23%). In a troubling development, Sea Shepherd has adopted some of the racist and false arguments that are made by treaty opponents, writing for example that the Makah pay no U.S. taxes of any kind.
The Makah largely support the hunt. In a 1995 referendum, tribal members were in favor of resuming whaling 76 to 28 (73%). One opinion poll has reportedly shown 85% of tribal members in support of whaling. Subsequent events have born out this support. When the Makah were offered potentially substantial financial assistance in exchange for abandoning their whaling rights, tribal members definitively rejected the offer in a two and half hour public meeting. However, there are Makah people who are (or were) opposed to the hunt for different reasons. A few, such as Alberta Thompson and Dottie Chamberlin, have opposed the killing of gray whales. Sea Shepherd reports that Alberta Thompson in particular has been harassed for her political activism. Thompson was fired from her tribal government job after making a call to Sea Shepherd from work, and in December 1998 her tribal pension was revoked, reportedly because of her opposition to the hunt. She had to hide temporarily after participating in a Sea Shepherd protest where she invited members from the organization onto the reservation (against a tribal ordinance). At one time there was even talk of banishing her from the reservation. Another group that opposed the hunt, at least initially, did not feel they had been properly consulted in the course of the hunts organization. Today the hunt is organized as a tribal endeavor, but historically whale hunts were organized by the leaders of high-status families. To be excluded from the hunt thus suggests quite a bit about a familys history and status. The whaling crew reportedly took advantage of delays in the hunt in the fall of 1998 to mend their fences and meet with elders from these families. While this is not to suggest that all such disagreements have been resolved, this opposition is not opposition to whaling per se.
Whaling opponents sometimes describe opposition to the hunt as a conflict between traditional elders and imposed tribal councils. For example, one animal rights organization explains Alberta Thompsons opposition to whaling:
disagreements between traditional elders and their formal tribal governments are not uncommon. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1935 forced all US tribes to take on a corporate form of government, replacing various forms of traditional tribal governments that inherently gave Elders a great influence. [emphasis added]
Implying that Makah whaling opponents are traditional elders fighting against forced tribal governments ignores the fact that most elders have supported a return to whaling. However appealing this simple dichotomy between tradition and assimilation may be to non-native observers, it is an overly simplistic representation that fails to describe Makah political realities. From all available evidence there is no reason to believe the Makah Tribal Council has misrepresented its electorate.