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
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
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