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Commercial Whalers and Slave Traders

The American people aren’t accepting this country’s return to whaling of their own free willy. It is being forced on them like the infamous Presidential cigar. Maybe the last time the will of the U.S. citizenry was represented by our delegates at an International Whaling Commission meeting was in 1993 when Dr. Michael Tillman was Trade Commissioner. He stated:

“...we found no support among the American public or the U. S. Congress for a resumption of commercial whaling...the United States therefore will not support a resumption of commercial whaling, whether coastal or pelagic.”

The Makah agenda is “to harvest whales not only for ceremonials and subsistence, but also for commercial purposes.” That truth was leaked by Dave Sones, their “fisheries” manager in a May, 1995 letter to the U.S.

Commerce Department. This sentiment was recently echoed by Canada’s Nuu-Chah-Nulth Indians, who also hope to resume whaling. They plan to use the Makah hunt as a stepping stone to the commercial sale of whale products.

Lately the Makah’s ultimate, commercial intent has been carefully concealed in a mask of spiritual journeys that can only be achieved through the killing of a whale. Modern-day people, except perhaps Devil worshipers, have abandoned gruesome, sacred ceremonies that require sacrificing animals in the name of religion. Even the Catholic church has learned that eating a wafer can be as satisfying as an actual body in their communion ceremony.

But the Makah repeatedly reject the idea of performing their traditional ceremonies while stopping short of taking a whale’s life.

In 1997, despite continued public support for whales, our IWC delegates struck a five year deal with the Russians to get the Makah a back-door quota. Defying an international treaty on trade in endangered species, they traded 20 of the Alaskan Eskimos’ bowhead whales (down to only 13 percent of their original population) for 20 gray whales from the Russian Chukotkas.

The Chukotkas are happy to trade up for the more palatable bowhead. Very few of them will even eat gray whales, which are said to have the texture of gum erasers and are known in their language as “the one that makes you poop fast.” The real source of gray whale’s nickname “Devilfish”?

Since the Clinton administration is assisting the Makah in their effort to return to whaling, wouldn’t it be a nice, symbolic gesture for the President to join them in their ceremonial whaling preparations? These included prayer and self-flagellation, as well as fasting and sexual abstinence.

Other rites that were part of their whaling ceremonies are kept secret from “outsiders” as nobody’s business. Are there skeletons in the closet they don’t want exhumed?

The media have been depicting a Disneyized version of the historic Makah: a simple, sharing people, unique in their reverence for the Earth’s creatures.

Summon the image of the Plains Indians: substitute whale for bison. But the coastal Makah were different, killing more prey then they could ever eat themselves. Whales were rendered into oil to be traded along the Pacific.

They were a source of great wealth for the tribal elite, who thought themselves superior to other Indians, including buffalo hunters. Although the primitive Makah’s ability to conquer massive sea mammals without motor boats or heavy artillery was impressive, it was excessively cruel. And, according to European witnesses, so were some of the related rituals.

“Since it was the first whale of the season, special ceremonies were involved...When it was brought ashore, a slave was sacrificed, and the corpse was laid beside the whale’s head, which was adorned with eagle feathers…” observed Haswell and Boit, eighteenth century writers. Boit understood that cannibalism was also occasionally practiced. Today’s Makah plan to tow their whale to an “undisclosed location ...to be ceremoniously butchered.” What sort of grisly rituals will they revive that outsiders should not witness?

Slave trading was an integral part of the Makah socioeconomic structure.

Slaves were considered chattel, a thing of less than human status, one step below “worthless people” in their caste system. Possession of slaves was prestigious; to sacrifice a slave on a formal occasion demonstrated an arrogant disregard of wealth. Unfortunately for their lower castes, this was before the United Nations Decade of Education in Human Rights.

In order to capture new slaves and acquire new territories, the Makah frequently undertook military expeditions to distant villages. Relying on the element of surprise, they would attack and kill all the adult males.

Women and children were taken as slaves; infants and elderly were left for dead. Slain members of the conquered tribe were decapitated, their heads brought back to be displayed as trophies. I guarantee the Clallam County

Health Department would have a thing or two to say if they start seeing human heads strung along the streets of Neah Bay like so many rotting Halloween pumpkins. Clearly, the killing of whales is not the only bygone tradition that modern society would condemn or reject if given a voice. The Makah continued to capture and trade slaves well after the 1855 treaty prohibited it.

Japan, in their ongoing effort to promote the backslide into commercial whaling, discovered a crisis situation in 1995. They learned the number of their young people who had never tasted whale was on the rise! In answer to that shocking trend, their "fisheries" agency began a slick marketing campaign that included a home delivery service for whale meat. A quarter-pounder there now goes for $55.00 U.S. That’s without cheese. Or a bun. But a word of warning to those planning to stop by the Moby Dick’s franchise (coming soon to your neighborhood) for a juicy double-devilfish burger: Don’t forget the Kaopectate!

Jim Robertson

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