Subject: Makahs celebrate hunt's success: Blubber washed down with soda to the

Michael Williamson (
Tue, 18 May 1999 16:07:59 -0400

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Seattle Times: Makahs celebrate hunt's success: Blubber washed dow= n with soda to the beat of drums


= = = = = = =
Local News

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= Posted at 07:31 a.m. PDT; Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Makahs celebrate hunt's success: Blubber washed down with soda to the bea= t of drums


by Lynda V. Mapes and Chris Solomon
Seattle Times staff reporters

NEAH BAY, Clallam County - This 30-foot gray whale was only a dream f= or the Makah Tribe for so long. But yesterday, Makah whalers bagged the t= ribe's first whale in more than 70 years in a hunt they called a huge vic= tory not only for the Makahs, but for indigenous people around the world.=

Once beaten in school for speaking their own language and forced to = hold tribal celebrations in secret, tribal members took on the opposition= of much of the world to kill this whale.

They did so with the help of the U.S. government, which must honor t= he tribe's right to hunt whales, specifically guaranteed by an 1855 treat= y.

Determined to live its whaling tradition, this tiny tribe at the fa= r Northwest corner of the country was true to its word that one day it wo= uld hunt whales again.

As the dead whale was dragged up on the beach at Neah Bay, there was = no squeamishness in the crowd. Tribal members of all ages pressed in clos= e to watch the butchering. Even small children reached out for samples of= the fresh-cut blubber, giggling as they tugged on it with their teeth li= ke taffy.

Some screeched, "eeew," and "yuck," while others grabbed for second = helpings, getting the hang of chewing the soft white blubber off the rubb= er-tough skin.

"I don't know what it tastes like, because I've never eaten anything = like it before," said James Hendricks, 13. "I've heard so many stories ab= out this from my grandpa. Now I finally know what he meant."

Family members put pieces in their pockets to take to elders waiting= in cars parked by the road. Tiny pieces, cut into chunks like candy, wer= e passed to the smallest children.

Pretty soon nearly everyone in the crowd was chewing, and many let l= ong pieces of the meat dangle from their mouths, savoring what they descr= ibed as a bouncy texture and clean, salt-sea taste without a trace of fis= hiness.

Using knives more than a foot-and-a-half long tied to poles taller t= han a man, tribal members sawed at the carcass, cutting bloody chunks fro= m the whale. Blue plastic tarps were spread on the sand, where the chunks= were tossed. As some men cut, others sharpened the knives. =

They sawed into the blubber first, which was thick, white and dotted= with blood. Then came the meat, bright red and lean. They stripped it fr= om the carcass with meat hooks.

The whale's mouth was agape, its white baleen visible. Its eyes were= still open, and blood from the whale's shattered skull dripped past the = lids. =

As the butchers worked, tribal members washed blood off the carcass w= ith a fire hose.

Everywhere, there were contrasts as this ancient ritual was performed= by a modern people. Some tribal members chewed their blubber and washed = it down with Diet Pepsi. =

Some blew air horns in celebration, while others beat handmade drums= and sang family songs as old as the whaling tradition.

Some wore cedar headbands and traditional button blankets along with= baseball caps, blue jeans and basketball shoes.

Prayer and song preceded kill

The whalers harpooned the whale about 7 a.m. yesterday. They had pr= ayed together the night before on sacred tribal ground, and received the = gift of a tribal medicine man's song, which came to him in a dream. In i= t, the whale gave itself up to the crew without struggle. =

Before dawn, a crew of eight men in a hand-carved cedar canoe paddle= d out to sea. They were met on the ocean by other crew members in motoriz= ed support boats.

Within hours, in the same whaling grounds as their ancestors, they f= ound their prey: a gray whale, about 3 years old, right next to the boat.= It was so close, harpooner Theron Parker didn't even need to throw his s= tainless-steel-tipped harpoon, but instead stabbed it deep into the whale= =2E

The whale continued to swim even though harpooned, towing the whale= r's canoe.

A gunner came alongside in a motorized chase boat and blasted four s= hots with a .50-caliber rifle. The first two missed. The last two hit the= whale directly in the brain. =

A plume of bright red blood steamed into the sea as the first shot p= ulverized a chunk of the whale's brain case, stunning the animal. The sec= ond, fired about two minutes later, blasted a hole in its skull about 3 i= nches by 6 inches.

That killed the whale instantly, according to Joe Scordino, a biolog= ist with the National Marine Fisheries Service who examined the carcass o= f the whale as Makah tribal members butchered it on the beach.

"This was a very good kill," Scordino said. "It was humane and effec= tive. They did a great job."

The crew towed the whale home by its tail from the stern of a fishin= g boat. It took all day to get to a beach in the center of town - they ar= rived at about 5:30 p.m.

As they neared the beach, the crew members untied the whale from the= fishing boat and retied it to their cedar canoe. They paddled the whale = to the beach with an escort of four canoes paddled by people from Northwe= st tribes who came to support the Makahs.

Cheering in the rain

As they brought the whale near, hundreds of townspeople standing in a= steady rain began to scream and cheer. Some had waited more than six hou= rs to see the whale.

Tribal leaders greeted the whalers as they landed, and the whalers t= ook turns standing on the great beast, pumping their fists in victory.

Parker, the harpooner, dusted the whaling crew and the carcass with = eagle down, and tribal members encircled the whalers, prayed and sang. Ch= ildren swarmed over the whale, touching it with wonder, then bouncing on = its jiggly mass. =

A cable was hooked to the whale and an army-surplus truck was used t= o try to yank it up the beach, but the winch on the truck would not work.= Undaunted, tribal members grabbed the towline. Pulling and shouting toge= ther, they hauled the carcass up the beach, hand over hand.

Anti-whaling activist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation S= ociety watched from just outside the bay. Aboard the Sirenian, Watson bla= sted his air horn, then said on a loudspeaker: "Baby killers. Big bad Ma= kah whalers kill baby whales."

The crowd, intent on the whale and their celebration, paid little no= tice, not even when the Sirenian left the bay.

About eight whale-watching boats approached the reservation boat land= ing after the kill; one actually bumped the dock. A shouting match betwee= n protesters and tribal members and supporters ensued before the protest= ers left the bay.

Protesters held a press conference in the nearby town of Sekiu at mi= dafternoon yesterday. They accused the federal government of spoon-feedin= g the Makahs the whale by providing protection through the U.S. Coast Gua= rd, and assistance through the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Alberta Thompson, a tribal whaling critic, wept with grief at the p= ress conference. Whaling opponent Kenny Clark of the Sea Defense Alliance= said that for whaling protesters, yesterday was a day "of hugging and cr= ying. They did open the door to international whaling today."

The hunt's critics had predicted disaster. They warned of a botched = and cruel slaughter; injury to the whaling crew and little use of the mea= t by a people long used to modern convenience foods.

Instead, all seemed to go smoothly for the tribe. The joy on the bea= ch as the whale was butchered was incandescent, even as outrage over the = televised kill built throughout the Northwest.

Jill Markishtrum, a sister of one of the whalers, said the kill will= help her three children, ages 12, 10 and 7, know who they are.

"I am very proud and very happy for the future of my kids. It is so = uplifting to see our past and our future in the same afternoon." =

`Kinship with the whale'

She had only one worry: even more intense criticism of the tribe by = anti-whaling activists. "We have been called names before, and people hav= e been unkind to us. Now it will get worse." But she could not imagine wh= aling only symbolically, without an actual kill, as critics have requeste= d.

"That would be like playing cowboys and Indians, like putting on mak= eup," Markishtrum said. =

Critics of the hunt do not understand it, said Mary McQuillen of Po= rt Townsend. "We have a kinship with the whale. We do not kill the whale;= we call the whale home. That whale gave its life to heal this village."

Said Arnie Hunter, a Makah tribal chief and member of the whaling co= mmission: "I just knew today was the day."

Like many tribal members, he used the imagery of a circle to describ= e his emotions yesterday. "To me, this is the closing of a circle. We are= whole again."

He said the tribe will hunt again, perhaps this fall. The Makahs can= kill up to five whales a year.


Days of celebration will begin later this week. Tribes from around t= he Northwest and Canada are expected to arrive, and a potlatch with feast= ing, gifts and traditional songs and dances can be expected to last about= 10 days, tribal members said.

The butchering continued past midnight, with the butchering crew wor= king by the headlights of trucks parked on the beach around the whale. Th= e carcass steamed in the headlight beams, and dogs stole scraps of the st= range, new meat, gumming it briefly before laying it down again, apparent= ly unsure of what to do with it.

The meat and blubber were hauled away throughout the night in the ar= my-surplus truck and stored in freezers at a fish-processing plant on the= reservation.

As the tribe worked, the tide rose, rinsing the whale's blood back i= nto the sea.

Copy= right © 1999 Seattle Times Company

<= a target=3D"_top" href=3D"/news/local/html98/vanc_19990518.html">Canada's= Nuu-chah-nulth tribe rejoices, considers its own hunt
<= a target=3D"_top" href=3D"/news/local/html98/vigi_19990518.html">Hunt's f= oes hold a vigil in Seattle
<= a target=3D"_top" href=3D"/news/local/html98/reac_19990518.html">Traditio= n vs. a full-blown PR problem
<= a target=3D"_top" href=3D"/news/local/html98/side_19990518.html">Whale's = killing stirs intense reactions
<= a target=3D"_top" href=3D"/news/local/html98/mail_19990518.html">Readers = react strongly to the hunt

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