“When you break those connections that define who you are, people struggle,” explained Makah Chairman Timothy J. Greene. “Being disconnected from our spiritual practices has a negative impact. Imagine a Catholic person not being able to go to Mass. The training and spiritual preparation we go through [to prepare for a hunt] helps make our community whole and really be who we are.”
Long before the Europeans discovered the New World, the Mahak tribe had been hunting whales for spiritual, cultural, and economic purposes.
The tribe had been trading whale oil, seal skins, and halibut throughout the Pacific Northwest. And whaling was at the heart of their culture, with native whalers singing to their target whales and asking the marine creatures to give themselves to the Makah people. Once they caught a whale, they would tow the dead animal ashore, where it would be greeted with a thanksgiving ceremony. Afterwards, every member of the tribe would feast on fresh blubber and share some of the catch with other tribes.
But when the Europeans started their whaling industry, it resulted in tragedy, with many whale species pushed to the edge of extinction. Because of the critical situation, the Makah tribe voluntarily stopped whaling in 1928, nearly 20 years before many nations concurred to follow the regulations set by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which issued a ban on commercial whaling and catch limits on subsistence whale hunts.
After decades of waiting to resume their traditional whaling activities, the Makah tribe learned that the gray whale population has finally recovered as of 1995. Gray whales were their main hunts, and it was time for them to get reconnected to the very heart of their culture again.
The Makah tribe should not have any legal problems in resuming whale hunts, since their right is protected by the Treaty of Neah Bay that was formally agreed upon between the United States of Anerica and the Makah tribe in 1855, wherein it is stated under Article 4:
“The right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the United States, and of erecting temporary houses for the purpose of curing, together with the privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed lands: Provided, however, That they shall not take shell-fish from any beds staked or cultivated by citizens.”
But now the Makah tribe must fight for their right to whaling in and out of court as they meet strong opposition from both preservationists and conservationists while contending with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
The fate of the Makah tribe’s whaling culture now lies in the hands of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — the agency in charge of implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In the NOAA’s latest correspondence with the Makah tribe, they were informed that a final decision would come by “early 2023″ and that they appreciate their patience since the matter has to undergo a long administrative process.
Nonetheless, chances are the Makah tribe would be given an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, along with a permit to hunt whales that would most likely require renewal every three years and for the entire process to be repeated every decade so that the tribe’s exemption would be in continuity.