Sunday, September 16, 2007

Makah Kerfuffle

Wayne Johnson, one of the men accused of illegally taking a gray whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, released this statement.
When the U.S. Coast Guard ordered us to drop our whaling weapons last Saturday, we were just moments away from killing a gray whale that would have fed our Makah people. The wounded whale was left to drift with our harpoons in it and a second whaling team that would have ended its misery was turned away at gunpoint. I probably shouldn't say anything about all this since it looks like I will be prosecuted in tribal court. But I'm proud of what we did. I'm only mad that we weren't allowed to finish the job and bring this whale to shore for our people.

We've been waiting eight years since our last whale hunt for the United States to hold up its end of our treaty that guarantees our right to hunt whales. They have yet to carry out the legal procedures they claim to need. I don't know if I had any faith in the process to begin with, but I certainly don't have any now. The Makah Tribe never conceded that our treaty rights were subject to all these conditions. We agreed to participate in the process only as a courtesy, not a legality. But years are going by. So many of our elders have passed on. And some of us need this whale meat in our freezers to get through the winter.

The whales we see out there all the time are robust and they are everywhere. Our tribe manages its natural resources very well. Our seafood is still healthy, our fish, our clams. We have an abundance of wildlife and we have good management in place. Our whale hunting is and will continue to be sustainable. We've had an International Whaling Commission quota of five whales a year in place every year since I helped bring home the whale in 1999. That's 40 whales we've been denied while the government drags its feet and makes excuses. Just like the 60 billion dollars courts say the government owes Indians today, the U.S. still does not keep its promises to Native people. If they don't want to uphold their part of the treaty, then give me back my land.

Some people are calling what I did an act of civil disobedience. I don't know much about that, but if civil is what the government is, then call my part savage disobedience. Eskimos did it when their whaling rights were challenged. Aleuts did it when their sealing rights were challenged. Tulalip, Puyallup, Nisqually, Muckleshoot and many other Indians did it when their fishing rights were challenged. Many of us whalers have been talking about this privately for a while. Even though our community didn't know until it happened, many share our frustrations and showed support. From the inside of the jail we could hear them honking for us as they drove by. I was willing to go to jail. I did it for my mom, who is approaching 80, and for my nephew who is 5. Instead of commodity surplus cheese and canned goods this winter, I want them to eat our healthy Native foods. I want them to eat whale.

The Seattle Times, which also published the statement, has more on the story.

What I believe to be the Tribe's official position is reflected in this Q&A from the whaling section of the Makah website.

Here is the official statement of the Makah Tribal Council.

The Makah Tribal Council denounces the actions of those who took it upon themselves to hunt a whale without the authority from the Makah Tribal Council or the Makah Whaling Commission. Their action was a blatant violation of our law and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are cooperating with the National Marine Fisheries Service in their investigation of this incident and will continue to do so.

The individuals who took part in this act were arrested by Makah enforcement officers and booked in our detention facility. They were released only after meeting the bail requirements set by the court. They will stand trial in our court at a future date.

We had a meeting of the general council of the Makah Tribe to discuss this incident and the membership of the tribe supports our action. The tribe has demonstrated extraordinary patience in waiting for the legal process to be completed in order to receive our permit to conduct a whale hunt. We are a law-abiding people and we will not tolerate lawless conduct by any of our members. We hope the public does not permit the actions of five irresponsible persons to be used to harm the image of the entire Makah tribe.