by Dionna M. Dominguez
Commentary - The Western Front Online

If participating in offensive and gruesome ritual killings is not considered a favorite family pastime, someone forgot to tell the gray whale hunting, blood spilling, can't-live-in-the-now Makah Tribe.

The necessity of whaling is hotly debated among tribal members, its supporters and those who oppose it. In an open letter to the public in 1998, Keith Johnson, Makah Whaling Commission president, lamely attempted to cite to the opposition issues, such as tribal religion, dietary nutrition and the need to instill cultural pride and discipline in their youth, as legitimate reasons for whaling. In a very telling comment, Johnson added, "We also want to fulfill the legacy of our forefathers and restore a part of our culture, which was taken from us."

The plot thickens

Cultural "traditions" of the Makah, such as stalking and killing gray whales- using the power boats and high-powered rifles of their forefathers- as a way to spiritually connect to their ancestors, are not reasonable methods of teaching cultural pride, much less discipline.

It is a political act, plain and simple

It is the Makah's defiant way of telling the world they are not governed by our value system and will exercise their rights at random, just because they can- no matter how ignorant the exercise.

It is as ridiculous an act as a white southerner taking his unruly son to witness the hunting down, shackling and enslavement of a black person. Never mind that it is just plain wrong and that it is the new millennium- it's just a part of "Southern tradition" and should revisit the black community at least one day each year. The Makah express the same ignorant mentality by whaling. It is not necessary to preserve cultural identity.

After viewing the live telecast of the May 18, 1999 slaughter of a gray whale off the coast, Washington Sen. Slade Gorton sent a news release lambasting the Makah for its actions. "The Makah do have the right to hunt whales under their treaty (negotiated with U.S. Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens at Neah Bay in 1855) and through the International Whaling Commission," Gorton said. "Their choice to exercise this right, however, was both extraordinarily foolish and an affront to the sensibilities of tens of millions of their fellow Americans."

The key word is "fellow"

The choice to exercise this antiquated right, originally established for the purpose of sustaining an American Indian nation, is neither a cultural nor religious issue. It is an issue of defiance and rebellion by one angry segment of a society against another- hardly an action of fellowship.

Many of the Makah openly express their deep-seeded resentment toward the segment of society they blame for stealing their cultural identity- whites. Whaling is merely a weapon used by the Makah in their perceived power struggle with that segment.
"Whenever we had something you wanted or did something you didn't like, you tried to impose your values on us," Johnson said. "Too often white society has demonstrated this kind of cultural arrogance."

Cultural arrogance could not be more evident than in the Makah's refusal to make reasonable decisions based on their current needs and options available, rather than resurrecting unnecessary traditions of the past.

It is the gift the Tribe gives its youth in a day and age when young members need to be able to acclimate to a diverse nation, not hide under a blanket of separatist "traditions" that they may not even view as valuable.

Then again, the aspect of making tons of money from their right to the commercial sale of whale meat will probably win more than a few converts, although the Makah deny the intent to do so.

Sushi anyone?


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