Friends foes turn out for Makah hearing
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FEBRUARY 2, 2001

A public hearing on the gray whale hunt of the Makah Nation brought out friends and foes of the Washington tribe on Thursday evening as tribal members defended their treaty rights against animal rights activists.

About 100 Makah tribal members were present at the hearing, which was held in Seattle by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). They were joined by members of other tribes throughout the country and civil rights activists.

All came to support the tribe's ancient tradition which was resumed in 1999 after a 70-year hiatus. Driven to near-extinction by commercial whalers, the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list in 1994 and the federal government estimates the current population at 26,000.

Despite the whale's rebound, the hunt has touched off a firestorm of debate as evidenced in last night's hearing, the first ever on the issue. A number of speakers expressed opposition to killing whales altogether under any conditions.

But they may not have much ammunition against the government, who has pledged to support the tribe's right to hunt. Courts have upheld the tribe's treaty-secured right to hunt as well and Chairman Greig Arnold reminded the audience of the importance of the tradition to their people.

"We are a hunting people and a fishing people," said Arnold. "That is our tradition. Our treaty gives us the right to ask for the lives of the whales we hunt. We must protect our treaty until the tide quits coming in and out."

Not everyone accepted Arnold's views, however. About half of the audience, which numbered around 400 to 500, were opposed to the hunt and many were members of anti-whaling organizations including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Defense International.

A number of them accused the federal government, often in profane language, of preparing a poor environmental assessment biased in favor of the tribe. The NMFS was required by a court decision last summer to prepare the assessment because their first report failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

"If this is the way of doing an unbiased assessment, you suck at it," said a member of a group called US Citizens Against Whaling.

"The EA fails throughout to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," said Will Anderson of the Earth Island Institute.

The assessment lays out four options under which whaling by the tribe would occur for the next two years. The first would limit hunting during the whales' annual migrations between Alaska and Mexico under conditions similar to the hunts of previous years. One whale was killed in 1999 but none last year.

The second option would allow hunting at all times of the year, including a limited hunt outside the migration period, while a third would place no limits on when or how the tribe would hunt. All of these three options impose a maximum of five whales killed during the next two years.

The final option would not set a quota for hunting at all. But the government says the tribe could sue in order to enforce its treaty rights or it could continue to hunt whales should no quota be issued.

The tribe received an odd vote of support from a pro-hunting group who attended the hearing. Carrying signs reading "To hunt is natural," "Whale meat is nature's health food," and "Let's talk about it over a whale burger," the group held a mini-protest outside the Seattle auditorium.

Written comments on the environmental assessment are being accepted until February 16.

Get the Draft Environmental Assessment:
Makah Whaling Draft Environmental Assessment (NMFS January 2001)

Send Public Comments on Draft to:
Gale Heim
Office of Protected Resources
NOAA Fisheries, 1315East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Makah Whale Hunt (A Top Story of 1999)

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Relevant Links:
The Makah Nation -