Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pacific Northwestern Native American Indian Group Hopes for Return to Whaling

The Makah, a Pacific Northwestern Native American Indian tribe who today face serious poverty and unemployment, are guaranteed the right to hunt whales in an 1855 treaty with the U.S. Whaling and fishing have been their mainstay for thousands of years and the tribe of 1,500 still see themselves as whalers. The Makah spiritually identify with whales. Early in the 20th century, the group stopped hunting whales when commercial harvesting had depleted the gray whales. International whaling restrictions helped the species rebound, and the whales were removed from the endangered species list in 1994. Several years later, the Makah won permission to hunt them again and their first historic hunt came in 1999 as they killed one whale. "My mother said she never thought she'd see a whale hunt in her lifetime," said Arnie Hunter "And I never thought I'd see a whale hunt in my lifetime. Everybody was joyously crying; we never thought it would happen."

But animal rights protests and the television cameras "took a lot of the spirituality out of it," said Dave Sones, vice chairman of the tribal council. By 2002, an appeals court declared the hunting illegal, saying that studies had not addressed the impact of Makah hunting on the survival of the whale species. Last February, the tribe asked the agency for a waiver granting them permanent rights to kill up to 20 gray whales in any five-year period which is a right guaranteed under their 1855 treaty. Some groups which oppose the commercial harvesting of whales remain neutral on the Makah's quest. "No indigenous hunt has ever destroyed whale populations," said John Hocevar of Greenpeace. "And looking at the enormous other threats to whales and putting the Makah whaling in context, it's pretty different."

All the Native American Indian groups of the Pacific Northwestern region have connections with whales and it shows in their artwork. For some examples, see Pacific Northwestern Indian artwork of whales.

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