Also take a look at our special section on the Makah whale hunt.
The Makah Indian Tribe and Whaling:
A Fact Sheet Issued by the
Makah Whaling Commission
July 21, 1998
1. When does the Makah Tribe intend to conduct a whale hunt?
We have been planning a whale hunt for the past four years. We are now in the final stages of preparation and plan to conduct the hunt beginning in October or November of 1998.
2. Why does the Tribe want to do this?
Whaling has been a tradition of the Makah for over 2000 years. We had to stop in the 1920's due to the scarcity of gray whales. Their all-time abundance now makes it possible to resume the hunt. There has been an intensification of interest in our own history and culture since the archeological dig at our village of Ozette in 1970, which uncovered thousands of artifacts bearing witness to our whaling tradition. Many Makah feel that our health problems result, in some degree, to the loss of our traditional diet of seafood and sea mammal meat. We would like to restore the meat of the whale to our diet. Many of us also believe that the problems besetting our young people stem from lack of discipline and pride. We believe that the restoration of whaling will help to restore that discipline and pride.
3. How many whales will the Makahs take?
We are legally permitted to take up to five whales per year, but the Makah gray whale management plan limits the number of landed whales over a five year period to 20or an average of four per year. The management plan permits whaling only if there is an unmet traditional subsistence or cultural need for the whale in the community. So it is possible that as little as one whale per year will suffice.
4. What species will be hunted?
Only the eastern Pacific or California gray whale will be hunted.
5. Does the level of Makah whaling proposed pose any conservation threat to this species?
Absolutely not. Whale scientists have closely observed the species for many years and in 1993 determined that the gray whale population had exceeded the numbers existing before industrial whaling on this species began. In 1994 the gray whale was removed from the endangered species list. The most recent population estimate, (1996) was 22,263 whales. The population continues to increase at a rate of about 2.5 percent per year; despite continuous harvesting of about 165 gray whales a year by Russian aboriginesthe Chukotki, for the last 30 or 40 years.
6. What gives the Makahs a legal right to hunt whales?
Under the treaty made by the United States with Makahs in 1855, the United States promised to secure to the Makahs the right to engage in whaling. This is the only treaty ever made by the United States which contains such a guaranty. The treaty which was ratified by the United States congress in 1855, is the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution and has been upheld by the Federal Courts and the Supreme Court. To us, the Makah Treaty is as powerful and meaningful a document as the U.S. Constitution is to other Americans; it is what our forefathers bequeathed to us.
7. How did a whaling clause come to be written into the treaty with Makah?
Prior to entering into negotiations with the Makah the United States government was well aware that our people had lived around Cape Flattery for several thousand years and that we subsisted primarily on whale, seal and fish. They knew that we hunted whales and that we had a thriving commerce in whale oil which made us wealthy. When the United States territorial Governor, Isaac Stevens arrived at Neah Bay in December of 1855, he entered into three days of negotiations with our leaders. They made it clear to him that while they were prepared to cede their lands to the United States, they wanted guarantees of their traditional rights on the ocean and specifically of the right to take whale. The Treaty minutes record Governor Stevens as saying to the Makahs: "The Great Father knows what whalers you arehow you go far to sea to take whale. Far from wanting to stop you, he will help yousending implements and barrels to try the oil." Stevens presented the written treaty to the Makahs and explained, through an interpreter, that the Treaty contained an express guaranty by the United States of the right to continue to take whales. The Treaty was then accepted by the Tribe.
8. Will the Makahs sell any of the whale meat?
Absolutely not. We will abide by federal laws which prohibit commerce in whale meat. Our Tribal law also prohibits any sale of whale meat or whale products, except for artifacts made by Makah carvers out of whale bone.
9. What use will the Makahs make of the whale?
The meat will be distributed to all members of the Tribe, which presently numbers 1,800 persons. Any meat remaining will be frozen in meat lockers for later distribution.
10. How will the Makahs hunt the whale?
We have given much thought and time to the planning of the hunt. We are attempting to conduct it in a way that is as consistent as possible with our traditional manner of whale hunting, but also with the requirement of the International Whaling Commission that the killing of the whale be done in as humane a manner as possible, and at the same time with as much safety as possible for our crews.
We presently plan to conduct the hunt from one or two traditional seagoing canoes, manned by crews of 8 to 9 whalers in each canoe. The canoe is 36 feet in length and is carved from a single cedar log. We plan to use both a harpooner and a rifleman who will be stationed in the canoe. The harpooner will use a stainless steel harpoon mounted on a wooden shaft approximately seven feet long, connected by ropes to buoys and to the canoe. The rifleman will fire a specially designed .50 caliber rifle simultaneously or immediately after the harpoon is thrown.
We have been working with Dr. Allen Ingling, a veterinarian at the University of Maryland on the use of this weapon. Dr. Ingling and representatives of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Marine Mammal Laboratory have been testing the use of this rifle. It is expected that the rifle will achieve immediate unconsciousness and death of the whale when fired at a target area near the base of the skull. It would be the most humane method that can be employed.
While it is true that this is not the traditional method of the Makah, it is far more humane than the traditional Makah practice of plunging spears into the whale to cause internal bleeding and ultimate death. That method often resulted in prolonged and agonizing death for the whale. The rifle merely replaces the spear and avoids unnecessary suffering.
We intend to follow the canoe with chase boats, and after the death of the whale, Makah divers will go into the water to lash the whale's jaws shut to prevent it from sinking. They will also attach lines to enable the whale to be towed back to shore. The carcass will beached at one of the Makah's traditional beaches and whaling family representatives will carve the blubber and meat and distribute it in accordance with traditional Makah practice.
11. Will the Makahs harm mother whales with calf or calves?
No. This is specifically prohibited by the Makah Whaling Management Plan. Only adult migrating whales will be taken.
12. Aside from history and tradition, is there any cultural purpose served by taking whales now?
Yes. Whaling and whales have remained central to Makah culture. They are in our songs, our dances, our designs, and our basketry. Our social structure is based on traditional whaling families. The conduct of a whale hunt requires rituals and ceremonies which are deeply spiritual. Whale hunting imposes a purpose and a discipline which we believe will benefit our entire community.
13. Do all tribal members support the plan to resume whaling?
While there is overwhelming support for whaling within the Tribe, there is some dissent. We respect the right of all Tribal members to express their own opinions on any issue, even though some of the dissenters have been aggressively exploited by anti-whaling groups. However, whaling is supported by the overwhelming majority of the Tribe. In 1995 there was a Tribal referendum on the issue and 85% of those voting favored whaling. In the most recent Tribal election for a seat on the five member council, one of the most vociferous opponents of whaling ran for office, but received only 35 votes out of 360 casts. While some of our elders signed a petition against whaling several years ago, many of them have repudiated their position and disclaim opposition now. The Tribe is governed by a democratically elected five-member council and the council recognizes that whaling is the mandate of an overwhelming majority of the Tribe.
14. Are you aware that your whaling plan has aroused intense opposition around the United States and abroad?
Yes. We are not insensitive to this. But we are also aware that much of this opposition has been whipped up deliberately by organized groups who have put out a blizzard of propaganda attacking us and urging the public to oppose us. Unfortunately much of this propaganda contains misinformation, distortion and outright falsehoods. The anti-whaling community is very well organized and very well financed and puts out a steady stream of propaganda designed to denigrate our culture and play on human sympathy for all animals. Perhaps what is lost in all of their rhetoric is an appreciation of the value of preserving the culture of an American Indian Tribea culture which has always had to struggle against the assumption by some non-Indians that their values are superior to ours. There is no denying that this kind of animosity has been extremely upsetting to our people. They are simply unused to being the object of hostility and vilification by the non-Indian world. But our opponents would have us abandon this part of our culture and restrict it to a museum. To us this means a dead culture. We are trying to maintain a living culture. We can only hope that those whose opposition is most vicious will be able to recognize their ethnocentrismsubordinating our culture to theirs.
15. Will whaling be regulated and if so, how and by whom?
Yes, whaling will be regulated. The Makah Tribe has adopted a highly detailed whale management plan. The plan will be carried into an agreement with National Marine Fisheries Service and both the plan and the agreement commit the Tribe to regulate whaling, and cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The regulation includes the following provisions: 1. Strict reporting requirements. 2. Area restrictions designed to ensure we take only migrating whales and not resident whales. 3. A prohibition against the taking of suckling calves or female whales accompanied by calves. 4. A prohibition against sale of any whale meat or products except for traditional native handicrafts. 5. National Marine Fisheries Service monitoring of the hunt. 6. Prosecution and punishment of any Tribal whalers who violate Tribal regulations adopted to carry out the terms of the memorandum of understanding with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Makah Tribe appreciates the action taken by the United States government to secure approval of the Makah Whale Hunt by the International Whaling Commission. We pledge our continuing efforts to cooperate with the Federal government to insure that our hunt is carried out in a proper and legal manner. We ask the public to remember that throughout the history of the United States there has been a sad record of intolerance of Indian culture. We hope that thoughtful Americans will ask themselves whether they can and should respect the efforts of a small Tribe which is trying to preserve its culture in ways that are consistent with conservation of natural resources.