Subject: Gray Whale Hunt:Why Indians must hunt the gray whale

Mike Williamson (
Sat, 26 Sep 1998 18:57:01 -0500

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                      J. Michael Williamson
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Why Indians must hunt the gray whale



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A member of the Mak= ah tribe stands among friends during a recent tribal celebration.
Why Indians must
hunt the gray whale
H= unting whales, Makah tribe seeks return to cultural and religious roots
By Keith Johnson
NEAH BAY, Wash. “The Grea= t Father knows what whalers you are =97 how you go far to sea to take wha= le.” These are words spoken by U.S. Territorial Governor Isaac Stev= ens in 1855 to the Makah Tribe during treaty negotiations for lands on Wa= shington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The treaty not only acknowledge= d the tribe’s inherent right to hunt whales, but articulated the es= sential identity of the Makah Nation as skilled seamen and whalers.

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Keit= h Johnson, president of Makah Whaling Commission
3D""        Commercial fishing nearly wiped out the gray w= hale population in the latter part of the 19th century, resulting in a wh= aling ban that began in the 1920s. The Makah’s whaling days were ov= er and the tribe, once prosperous from its whaling trade, slipped into an= inevitable economic and cultural decline, a fate suffered by many other = American Indian tribes during this time period.
The Makah are not a cruel people. They have a legal and c= ultural right to hunt the gray whale.

       And now, for the first time in 70 years, two c= rews of eight men each will go to sea from Neah Bay, on the tip of Washin= gton’s Olympic Peninsula, in two traditionally carved canoes and co= nduct a whale hunt, perhaps the greatest expression of the tribe’s = centuries-old culture.
       The hunt is sanctioned by the International Wh= aling Commission and the U.S. government, on the grounds that the hunt po= ses no threat to the now-thriving gray whale population, and fulfills the= treaty right that was guaranteed to the tribe in 1855.
&n= bsp;Is it right for= the Makah tribe to hunt gray whales?
* 1422 respo= nses
= Yes. It is a cultural tradition the tribe has a right to preserve.=
No. Times have changed. Protecting whales is more important = than traditional culture.
Don't know.
&nb= sp;3%

Survey results tallied every <= br>    60 seconds. Live Votes
   &= nbsp;reflect respondents' views
   and are not scientifical= ly
   valid surveys.

       The tribe has come under criticism from anti-w= haling and animal rights groups, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Soci= ety and PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society). Sea Shepherd has publi= cly stated that it will flout a U.S. Coast Guard regulation and “do= whatever is necessary to protect gray whales migrating through Neah Bay.= ”
       The Makah tribe does not have the money or res= ources to fight the anti-whaling battles that Sea Shepherd and PAWS are c= urrently financing replete with submarines, boats, helicopters and a well= -funded international public relations campaign. Their efforts represent = the height of moral elitism, as these groups attempt to instruct the Maka= h tribe — people who have been on this continent for thousands of y= ears — on the “enlightened” way of life.
       Let us reflect on the facts of the issue: the = Makah treaty guaranteed the tribe a commercial right to whale; however, t= he tribe is limiting itself to non-commercial whaling. No whale meat will= be sold; all of the meat will be divided among tribal members. The tribe= is motivated by nothing but cultural concerns in its intent to resume wh= aling. The Makahs are presently experiencing a cultural reawakening = 1; along with a renewed appreciation and need for a more traditional diet= in which whale and sea mammal meat were central.
       And although the tribe is authorized by the In= ternational Whaling Commission to take up to five whales per year, the Ma= kah management plan limits the number of landed whales over a five-year p= eriod to 20, or an average of four per year. The Makah Whaling Commission= will issue permits thereafter only if there is an unmet need in the comm= unity; one whale per year will be taken if that will meet the tribe’= ;s needs.
       It is worth emphasizing that the gray whale is= no longer in danger. The whale was removed from the endangered species l= ist in 1994. According to scientists around the world, the population is = currently at an all-time high of approximately 22,000, with annual increa= ses at 2.5 percent. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace, two of the world= 6;s leading conservation groups, have refused to come out against Makah w= haling precisely because they see no threat to the long-term survival of = the mammal.
We want people to look beyond the attacks of extremists a= nd attempt to understand and respect the depth of Makah culture.

       We also wish to clarify the erroneous claims b= y Sea Shepherd regarding significant tribal dissent on the issue. We ackn= owledge that a few Makah tribal members are opposed to whaling, but a few= do not represent the majority. All tribal members have the opportunity t= o express their views on this subject and the latest opinion poll showed = 85 percent of our members in favor of whaling.
       There have been unsubstantiated claims that hu= nted whales will begin attacking humans and devastate the whale-watching = industry in Washington: Let us offer this assurance: First, most whale-wa= tching is focused on orcas, not gray whales. Gray whale-watching, when it= occurs, takes place far from where the Makah will hunt. Second, we refer= to the case of the Chukotki, an indigenous Russian whaling tribe on the = Bering Sea. For the past 40 years, the Chukotki have hunted gray whales. = There is no evidence that these whales ever attack boats or act aggressiv= ely toward humans once they leave Chukotki waters and continue their migr= atory path down the coast to Washington state.
       Having lived among whales for 2,000 years, the= Makah know the habits and behavior of whales better than anyone. The Mak= ah are not a cruel people. At the same time, they understand that people = and animals are all part of the natural world and that predation is also = part of life on this planet. The people of my tribe hope that the general= public will look beyond the attacks of extremists and attempt to underst= and and respect the depth of Makah culture.
Keith Johnson, a Makah Indian, is presi= dent of the Makah Whaling Commission, comprised of representatives from 2= 3 traditional whaling families, and a member of the Makah Tribal Council.=

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