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Indian Tribe's Whale Hunt Spawns
Whirlpools of Dangeous Issues Lacking?

by 7amNews Correspondent Patricia Phillips
3:15 PM CDT 2 October 1998


Captain Ahab's ghost looms over the northwestern coast of Washington, where a tiny Indian tribe's intention to once again hunt great gray whales has spawned an international storm tide of protest and conflict.

Like the obsession of Melville's Ahab, this modern-day clash is about far more than just a whale hunt in a paddled cedar boat. A surprising Indian spiritual vision claimed by the Makah tribe’s major Caucasian antagonist, the tribe's desire for the resurgence of ancient cultural ways that no one living has experienced, both sides' claimed reverence for the whale, international laws, and environmental clashes make for a roiling sea of controversy that mirrors the rough, dangerous waters of the Pacific northwest.

At first glance, the legal issue seems simple enough and clearly, weighs in favor of the Makahs. Their 1855 treaty with the U.S. made them the only U.S. Indian tribe with assured whaling rights.
After 70 years without whaling, the Makahs in 1994 sought permission to again begin killing the great gray whales. Once hunted almost to extinction by white 19th century whalers, the grays were placed on the Endangered Species list 1973, and removed in 1994.

As the new Makah whale hunters prepared to revive a hunt that no living tribal member has ever participated in,they found backing from the Clinton administration, the International Whaling Commission, the U.S. Commerce Department, and the U.S. Judicial system, As of Oct. 1, the Makahs again had the legal right to take to the seas to hunt and kill the gray whale. But under that decision lay murky depths of international sea conservation laws and treaties, as well as historic American Indian treaty rights.

Since the Makahs are claiming cultural rights as well as subsistence rights, environmentalists are afraid that this decision opens the door for the Japanese to cite their sea-going heritage to claim relief from international sealife conservation laws. Reknowned for their mass slaughter of dolphins in large-scale tuna netting, the Japanese reportedly are chaffing under current international restrictions.

Adding to the undertow of whispered Japanese influence is a story that a Makah representative may have consulted with the Japanese at an IWC meeting. Since whale meat is an Asian delicacy and one gray whale could bring in at least half-a-million-dollars, the Makahs have been stung by charges that their newly-reborn hunt is more about money than about culture.

Money aside, the muddied legal eddies eventualy will trickle across the United States. One of the major issues at stake is Indian tribal sovereignty, now under serious attack from Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Washington), and other Congressional leaders. Sovereignty, based on treaties and the laws of the U.S., means that tribes have specific rights as nations—and the Makah’s right to whaling is also a sovereignty issue.

Savvy Indian politicians and leaders note the irony in the situation. The United States has consistently failed to honor treaty rights with Indian tribes. In fact, in numerous other fishing issues across America, police and governmental officials have arrested and attempted to legally block Indians attempting to fish according to both treaty rights, subsistence needs, and modern-day existing cultural observances. Now, the politically seasoned note, the United States is throwing its full weight--and money from the U.S. Commerce Department—behind an Indian issue that creates strong anti-Indian and anti-tribal-rights sentiment around the globe.

One look at the flotilla assembled to try and stop the Makah tells the tale of a monster conflict looming at sea. Led by Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd, environmentalists have vowed to protect the gray whales from the Makahs.

Not even this face-off, which many fear could become violent, is as simple as it seems. Watson, who founded the the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, claims he has been guided to this point in life by a vision he received during the historic American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

As Watson writes on his organization’s website:

I received my life's mission to protect the great whales while serving as a medic for the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. I was holding the other end of the stretcher when a U.S. Marshall's bullet struck down medic Rocky Madrid as we were running through a hail of lead. I assisted Leonard Crow Dog in removing the bullet. I was made a warrior brother to the Oglala Lakota Nation and was given the name Gray Wolf Clearwater. In the sweat lodge ceremony, I had a vision, a dream wherein an arrow struck a buffalo. The arrow had a long string attached to it. The buffalo asked for my help and I broke the string and chased the hunter away. Wallace Black Elk interpreted my dream. "Your mission is to help the buffalo of the sea - the whales," he said. "It will not be easy." But now the conflict has stepped out of the world of visions, and into a daunting, dangerous situation in which the watching U.S. Coast Guard is worried. Although Watson, who plans to use intercept boats, piped whale warnings, and a submarine painted like a whale, says that violence is not on his agenda, stories of planned rammings are spreading, adding even more tension to a situation that daily, draws more observers and participants—including hordes of journalists.

But this story can’t be fully explained in 30-second sound bites. Even the Makah themselves are divided on the issue. Some elders say that they have not been properly consulted for advice and guidance, as is proper in the culture. In fact, many are doubting the noveau hunters’ adherence to tradition.

Although they will take to the sea in a man-paddled cedar boat, the hunters will be accompanied by motorized modern chase boats. In addition, they will actually kill the whale with a .50 caliber gun following a strike with a harpoon. The modern firepower, the hunters say, is necessary to make the kills as humane as possible.

And what of the product of the hunt? Even many elders have never tasted whale meant, nor have tribal members flayed and prepared whale. Some tribal members say they’re opposed to the hunt, ironically enough, for environmental reasons, and because, they say, the tribe no longer depends on whale products, nor is it likely to.

An even larger worry for many is the risk of injury or death to the untested hunters. One Makah elder declared: "I just hope to God that no one is hurt."

Are all the Makah willing to risk their young men’s lives in pursuit of a whale that 19th century whalers called "the devil fish" for its ability, and desire, to fight for its life?

"I wonder if they really know what they are doing," said 88-year-old Irene Ward Ides, the grandaughter of a Makah whaler."The whale can get awfully mad. The whales know they're being chased. They know they're being hunted."

The Coast Guard agrees. ``I would say the whale definitely has the advantage,'' said Coast Guard Cmdr. Rich Closter. ``Whales are very dangerous when they're wounded,"

But even the spirit of the whale enters into contention here, where man and whale are preparing to re-enter an old and violent relationship. Watson, telling a tale about a friendly whale they named Buddy, says that killing the whales would be like killing "a puppy dog."

In the end, the entire story, should the Makah make it past the encircling flotilla to harpoon their prey, may be more about the spirit of the whale, than about the quarrels of men.

Captain Ahab's ghost looms over the northwestern coast of Washington, where a tiny Indan tribe's intention to once again hunt great gray whales has spawned an international storm tide of protest and conflict.

Like the obsession of Melville's Ahab, this modern-day clash is about far more than just a man-paddled, cedar-boat whale hunt. Beyond the U.S. and international legalties,beyond even the ecological concerns, loom conflicts that, curiously enough, often intertwine in shared viewpoints. A surprising Indian spiritual vision claimed by the Makahs' major white antagonist, the tribe's desire for the resurgence of ancient cultural ways that no one living has experienced, and both sides' claimed reverence for the whale make for a roiling sea of contoversy that mirrors the rough, dangerous waters of the Pacific northwest.

On the face of it, the legal issue seems simple, and clearly, weighs in favor of the Makahs. Their 1855 treaty with the U.S. made them the only U.S. Indian tribe with assured whaling rights.
Ater 70 years without whaling, the Makahs in 1994 sought permission to again begin hunting the great gray whales.Once hunted almost to extinction by 19th century whalers, the grays were placed on the Endangered Specist list 1973, and removed in 1994.

As the new Makah whale hunters are poised to revive a hunt that no living tribal member has ever participated in or seen, they are backed by the Clinton administration, the Standing against the outcry of some internaional environmentalists is the International Whaling Commission, the U.S. Commerce Department, and the U.S. Judicial system, the Makahs this month will take to the high seas in a cedar canoe. Although modern technology will give the Makah some advantages, the hunt is still risky. New England whalers called the gray whale ``devil fish'' for its tendency to fight rather than flee. And the sea is cold and rough. ``I would say the whale definitely has the advantage,'' said Coast Guard Cmdr. Rich Closter. ``Whales are very dangerous when they're wounded,'' he said, adding that the man firing the rifle ``better make the first shot count.'' A lawsuit filed by numerous conservation groups was rejected in federal court in September. While some mainstream environmental groups do not oppose the hunt, saying commercial whaling is more of a threat, two ships from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society that specialize in blocking commercial whalers were poised outside the harbor Wednesday. Whaling looms large in Makah culture, with images of the animal emblazoned on the high school and the backdrop used for traditional dances. The members of the whaling crew said they they are helping to unify their community with this return to proud tradition. The gray whale population has since climbed back to about 22,000, and the animal was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994, prompting the Makah to reassert the whaling rights they were granted in an 1855 treaty. The commission agreed to the hunt. The Makah, who live 120 miles from Seattle at the northwesternmost point of the Lower 48 states, plan to paddle out in a 32-foot hand-hewn canoe accompanied by motorized chase boats. The first blow with a steel-tipped harpoon will be followed with a .50-caliber coup de grace to make the hunt as humane as possible. The Makah would paddle out in canoes and spear the whale repeatedly with cedar harpoons with mussel-shell points and barbs. The harpoons had ropes connected to air-filled sealskin bladders, which would act as floats, allowing the Makah to track the whale and drive it to exhaustion. Before petroleum refining, whale blubber was widely used for lamp oil, and the arrival of New England whalers in the 1800s ultimately reduced the whale's numbers from an estimated 30,000 to 4,000 by the early part of this century. In 1973 gray whales were put on the first Endangered Species List. Makah whale hunts stopped 70 years ago, after commercial whalers hunted the great grays and other whales almost to extinction. In a political, cultural, economic, and, some say, spiritual conflict that has gathered worldwide attention, the new whale hungers of the Makah Indian Nation As the new whale hunters of the Makah Indian Nation prepare to embark on the tribe's first whale hunt in 70 years, the Off the tip of Northwest Washington State, the new whale hunters of the Makah Indian Nation await a change in weather and what they say will be the right time to begin their kill of gray whales. Pro-whaling tibal members claim that this hunt, the tribe's first in 70 years, s a necessary return to their ancient culture.

Under the terms of an 1855 treaty with the United States, the 2,200-member Makah Nation is the only Indian tribe with treaty-assured whaling rights. The Makah reasserted those rights after gray whales were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.

The Makah's right to take the 40-ton gray whales is now backed by the International Whaling Commission, the Clinton adminstration, and a federal judge who threw out environmental activists' legal manuevers The 2,200-member tribe lives 120 miles from Seattle at the northwesternmost point of the continental United States. Their hunts ended 70 years ago as demand for whale oil brought the animals to the brink of extinction. Gray whales, which grow up to 50 feet and can weigh 40 tons, were placed on the first Endangered Species List in 1973. The population climbed back to about 22,000 and the whale was removed from the list in 1994, prompting the Makah to reassert whaling rights granted in the 1855 treaty. Conservation groups argue that the Makah should refrain from whaling given that they no longer have a subsistence need for the meat and blubber as their ancestors did. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society anchored its protest flagship in plain sight of the main reservation village of Neah Bay. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said Pacific gray whales still deserve protection. "These guys are so gentle, it's like shooting a puppy dog," said Watson. "I don't see how there's any honor in that." Following their ancestors, the Makah plan to paddle out and strike first with a harpoon. In a departure from tradition, they will use a .50-caliber rifle to kill the whale and motorized boats to tow it home. The whale "is going to come to us when it's time," said Makah Whaling Commission chair Keith Johnson. "We're not pressured." The planned tribal hunt has sparked an international outcry from animal rights groups and anti-whaling activists. Some environmentalists have vowed to disrupt the hunt, leading the Makah to closely guard their plans. Cultural heritage vs. necessity? The Makah, who have an 1855 treaty with the federal government specifically preserving their right to hunt whales, won approval from the International Whaling Commission nearly a year ago to kill up to five whales a year over the next four years. A federal judge last month upheld the tribe's plans to harpoon, dismissing objections from tour boat operators, environmentalists and others. Tribal leaders hope the hunt will revive cultural pride, identity, and connection to their roots. "It's bringing us together," said Johnson. "All of our songs and dances, everything in our culture has meaning directly related to the whale and the whale hunt." The 2,200-member tribe lives 120 miles from Seattle at the northwesternmost point of the continental United States. Their hunts ended 70 years ago as demand for whale oil brought the animals to the brink of extinction. Gray whales, which grow up to 50 feet and can weigh 40 tons, were placed on the first Endangered Species List in 1973. The population climbed back to about 22,000 and the whale was removed from the list in 1994, prompting the Makah to reassert whaling rights granted in the 1855 treaty. Conservation groups argue that the Makah should refrain from whaling given that they no longer have a subsistence need for the meat and blubber as their ancestors did. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society anchored its protest flagship in plain sight of the main reservation village of Neah Bay. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said Pacific gray whales still deserve protection. "These guys are so gentle, it's like shooting a puppy dog," said Watson. "I don't see how there's any honor in that." The Makah is the only tribe whose 19th century treaty with the U.S. government specifically preserved the right to hunt whales. Watson and other whaling opponents fear a successful Makah hunt will open the door to other peoples and nations with whaling histories to resume hunting for "cultural" reasons, most notably Japan, Norway, and Iceland. "I just don't like the idea of killing whales, that's all," said Valerie Brown, a 38-year-old Makah woman who works as a cook at Beebe's, another local restaurant. "Nobody around here knows what whale meat tastes like, anyway. Nobody ever asks if we have it on the menu." single whale, it would open the floodgates to demands for whale hunts by other Indian tribes in the United States and Canada and, even more alarmingly in his view, to non-Indian whalers in countries like Norway, Iceland and Japan. Those countries have conducted limited whaling in defiance of an international ban, but many groups who defend whales say they believe the Makah hunt is part of a campaign to broaden commercial whaling. (Whale meat is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries and, by some estimates, a single gray whale can be worth up to half a million dollars.) Some tribal elders who can remember the taste of whale meat are not so sure the hunt is a good idea. "I admire the young people for taking on the challenge, but I just hope to God that no one is hurt," said 82-year-old Hildred Ides, whose grandfather was a whale hunter. "Going for a whale is a very serious thing, a very dangerous thing." Her 88-year-old cousin, Irene Ward Ides, nodded her head in agreement as they sat watching dancers in the community hall here one recent evening. "I wonder if they really know what they are doing," she said. "The whale can get awfully mad. The whales know they're being chased. They know they're being hunted." Indeed, the gray whale, which can weigh as much as 40 tons and grow much longer than the hunters' canoe, was called the "devil fish" by 19th century whalers for its propensity to thrash and fight when attacked. The hunt is the missing link, the thing that brings us full circle to our traditions," said Marcy Parker, the Makah tribal council's vice chairwoman. "We're ocean families, whaling families. So much of what we are all about comes from the ocean, and we feel a deep spiritual need to do this." Supported by the Clinton administration and a $310,000 grant from the Commerce Department, the group won an exemption from the worldwide whaling ban last year and, as of Thursday, has the right to take up to five gray whales per year in the next five years. Though critics fear the Makah hunt will open the door to commercial whaling here and elsewhere, the Indians insist they plan to use the whale meat, oil and blubber only for their own food and for ceremonial purposes NEAH BAY, Wash. -- Armed with a steel harpoon, a .50-caliber assault rifle and official permission to conduct the first legal hunt for a gray whale in American waters in more than 50 years, members of a small Indian tribe gathered Thursday on a beach on Washington's rugged Olympic Peninsula to start an adventure intended to resurrect the glory and traditions of their whale-hunting forefathers. But before the eight-man crew could even launch its 32-foot cedar canoe into the steely waters of the Pacific, the Makah Indians had to contend with a modern-day flotilla of animal-rights protesters, themselves equipped with a Norwegian-built submarine painted to resemble a whale and an underground speaker system that the protesters said was capable of scaring off a whale and saving its life. And the U.S. Coast Guard, intent on preventing the groups from clashing with each other, kept close watch on a scene that has posed an exquisite dilemma for many environmental groups. Finding themselves caught between the save-the-whales ethos represented by the protesters and the respect for centuries-old Native American traditions that the Makah say their whale hunt is all about, many leading environmental groups have taken no position at all on the matter. Though no living Makah has ever hunted a whale, the Indian nation here at the very northwestern tip of the continental United States was once renowned for its prowess, and it is the only Indian tribe specifically guaranteed the right to hunt whales under an 1855 treaty with the American government. Coverage of the International Whaling Commission's 1996 Annual Meeting June 23-28, Aberdeen, Scotland http://www.northolympic.com/makah/ Paul Watson is the founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They have effectively created an atmosphere in which concern for the welfare of whales is now perceived as a de facto attack on native rights and the cultural heritage of an oppressed minority Contrary to much popular opinion, feverish rumor, and inaccurate reporting (energetically disseminated by the Makah), we have never threatened to sink the Makah's boats, and the Makah never got approval from the IWC for their whale hunt Since its founding by Captain Paul Watson in 1977It is ironic and sad, yet appropriate, that I find myself leading the fight to oppose plans by the Makah Tribal Council to slaughter four Eastern Pacific gray whales in the waters of Washington state. A few weeks ago in Seattle, a sympathizer for the Makah's whaling initiative, demanding to know why I cared so much about four whales, yelled at me "Where were you when they were shooting Indians at Wounded Knee!?" "I was there," I answered. I received my life's mission to protect the great whales while serving as a medic for the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. I was holding the other end of the stretcher when a U.S. Marshall's bullet struck down medic Rocky Madrid as we were running through a hail of lead. I assisted Leonard Crow Dog in removing the bullet. I was made a warrior brother to the Oglala Lakota Nation and was given the name Gray Wolf Clearwater. In the sweat lodge ceremony, I had a vision, a dream wherein an arrow struck a buffalo. The arrow had a long string attached to it. The buffalo asked for my help and I broke the string and chased the hunter away. Wallace Black Elk interpreted my dream. "Your mission is to help the buffalo of the sea - the whales," he said. "It will not be easy." Two years later, in a high-speed zodiac, Bob Hunter and I became the first people to place our bodies between a whale and a harpoon. We were confronting the Russian whaling fleet sixty miles off the coast of Northern California in the first Greenpeace whale campaign. Never did I dream that more than twenty years later I would be returning home to defend the whales once again in American waters, this time from Americans. http://www.seashepherd.org/ "Oh, brave new world that has such people in it!" Shakespeare declared almost 400 years ago.

And what of today's brave new cyberworld? In a surprising study, Carnegie-Mellon researchers have sounded an alarm that no one quite expected. The Internet, they said, can interfere with personal contact to a point where loneliness, depression, and isolation occur.

Citing the temptation of easier,"more shallow" relationships via email, issue discussion boards, and chat sessions, Carnegie-Mellon social psychology professor Robert Kraut said that users may substitute these cyber-relationships for the real things--to unhappy ends.

Since the Internet is touted to be all about "connectivity" and greater sharing of resources and ideas, the study's findings that "a social technology has such anti-social consequences," were surprising, Kraut added. In fact, the study was expected to reveal a stronger sense of community.

The study involved a group of 169 users with common denominators, none of whom were depressed or isolated before being introduced to the Internet (AKA "World Wide Web."). However, a pattern emerged--that of choosing Internet time and contact instead of pesonal time with others "in real life".

However, the study may only be the harbinger of an already-noted larger social trend-that of decreasing individual participation in community, experts say. For the last 35 years, people in the U.S. have been getting less involved in volunteer, church, and political issues--and that lack of active support for community could lead to increased social problems.

So, does art--or at least the technological art that created the new "cyber-realities"--mimic reality? Are the study results only a reflection of a much larger withdrawal of people from other people and their shared communities?

Ironically, Aldoux Huxley used Shakespeare's quote as a springboard when he wrote his _Brave New World_, the novel of a future techonological utopia gone horribly wrong. In that landmark book, government officials and social scientists had set out to create a "brave new world" based on three major factors--Community, Identity, Stability. These are the very factors that the new study says may be negatively affected by too immersion in the new cyberworld.

However, the Carnegie-Mellon researchers are quick to point out that the study is only an indicator, and doesn't label the Internet as either good or bad. Rather, they say, they intend to use the knowledge gained to guide future social policies, as well as "for the design of Internet technology," Kraut said. He is lead author for the study,published this month in The American Psychologist, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

Krauat also pointed out that the earlier versions of the Internet were created for scientists to exchange technical information and that the appearance of the new, public Internet is a fairly new phenomena. Researchers say that the Internet will be as significant a development as were the telephone and television.

Around the Internet, discussion groups and message boards are tackling the issues in the study. Many dedicated Internet users say that like any tool, the Internet must be used in moderation, and not used as a substitute for other tools and activities.

The questions will remain, and the battles between Internet defenders and detractors continue as the 2lst Century nears for two worlds: everyday life and that of the unseen territory called "cyberspace."

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