Makah Indians Essay

The Makah are a Native Indian tribe who have recently decided to enact their
treaty rights, and start to hunt for whales. These actions have caused an uproar
in North America. The Natives state that they are not doing anything but
exercising their legal rights. Opponents to their hunting of whales argue that
the Makah are a group of uncivilized and inhumane individuals, and that they are
harming nature. The reportage of the controversy surrounding the Makah can be
seen as ethnocentric in many ways. Through the language used by the media
involved in the controversy, one can constantly see the Native people being
viewed as inhumane savages. In turn, this language allows readers to be sent
mixed messages about the Makah and their position in the whaling dispute.

Finally, the protestors themselves have contradictory arguments which leads one
to question the motivating factors behind their position. In order to fully
understand the whaling controversy, it is necessary to understand the history of
the Makah. They were a group of Native people who hunted gray whales. As a
result of their increased trade with the Europeans, the ‘white man’ decided to
also enter this hunt for the whale. This competition between the Makah and the’white man’ lead to the whale coming close to extinction. Due to their love for
nature and respect for the whale, the Makah decided to voluntarily refrain from
hunting whales. It is important to note however, that in 1855, the Governor of
Washington State agreed to the Treaty Of Neah Bay, which gave the Makah a right
to hunt for whales. This is what is at the heart of the controversy. The Makah
have recently enacted their hunting rights of the whale after seventy years, and
are now resuming their hunt for whales. The Makah reasoning is a relatively
simple one. In 1946, the gray whale population was 2000, and now their count is
over 26,000. They believe that it is safe to hunt for whales again. The Makah
have been a group of people who have relied on whale hunting. . They used the
blubber from the whale to feed their families, and they used the rest of the
whale to provide themselves with shelter and tools. However, their opponents
have dismissed this practice of hunting whales as inhumane. Through the language
that is being used by the media, one can see Native people being viewed as
savages. The language being used is not blatantly discriminatory against the
Native people, but is done in a subtle, yet powerful way, in order to evoke a
message that Native people are inhumane. One of the reasons for this negative
commentary regarding Native people hunting for whales could be due to
ethnocentrism. This is the belief that one’s own culture is considered to be
normal, therefore, other cultures are considered abnormal. The media carefully
uses words that show their bias towards the Native People. The media tries to
make the Makah look like a band of savages. While writing about a recent
anti-whaling demonstration, Peggy Andersen writes, “In a simmering dispute
that ended with a scuffle and arrests, angry Makah Indians pelted a protest boat
with rocks as the two sides bickered over a tribal plan to hunt gray
whales.” The wording of this opening paragraph leads the reader to think
that it was Makah who were causing trouble, and that they were the one’s that
were arrested. However, if one were to complete the article, they would realize
that this was not the case. Another example of media bias against the Makah
people is when Jonathan Dube writes, “As much as it’s possible for one dead
animal to give new life to an entire nation, that’s what has happened
here.” Dube is implying that it is impossible for an animal that has died
to bring life to a nation, however, that is what has occurred. He does not
understand how killing this whale could give life to the Makah, and therefore,
he conveys this message of doubt to his readers. Dube is indirectly stating that
the Makah need to kill in order to have life. Many readers and viewers of the
media are being sent mixed messages about the Makah and the whaling situation.

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As seen above, the media is using certain language that portrays the Makah in an
unflattering manner. However, this also has another major impact. The true
message, and plight of the Makah is being lost and overshadowed by this harsh,
and biased language. People reading newspaper articles probably know nothing
about the history of the Makah and are being given misleading information, which
is shaping their thoughts about the Makah. For example, Dube writes, “The
Makah eagerly awaited the revival of the whale hunt, a tribal tradition for 1500
years. The tribe ceased the activity in the 1920’s because commercial whaling
had brought the gray whale to the brink of extinction.” While this
statement is true, it does not state the identity of the commercial fishermen..

The way in which Dube wrote the previous statement, the reader gets the feeling
that the Makah were the commercial fishermen who were responsible for the near
extinction of the gray whale population. This altered truth leads many of the
readers into having a negative viewpoint of the Makah as they do not have
accurate information about the history of Makah whaling. In actuality, Webster
writes, “The Makah had to stop their hunts in the 1920’s after whaling by
whites decimated the food source.” The reader/viewer does not learn from
the media that it was the white man who decimated the whaling population and not
the Makah. Also, there is much media discussion as to whether or not the Makah
need to hunt for whales. The viewers of the media are being fed information
stating that the Makah do not need to hunt for whales because they have other
food that they can eat. An article in the Oregon Live from May 18th, 1998
states, “The Makah request to go whaling fit within the International
Whaling Commission’s aboriginal subsistence whaling provisions. The problem,
though, is that the subsistence requirement is bogus. The tribe has other food
sources to meet nutritional needs; it hasn’t had whales to eat since the 1920’s.

However, this biased information is hiding the true message. The Makah need to
whale hunt. Tribal leaders estimate there’s enough meat and blubber to give each
family 10 to 20 pounds’ worth. They can also make lamp oil from the whale’s oil,
tools from the bones, and baskets from the baleen. That is a big deal for this
nation, considering half of the households live below the poverty line and per
capita income is $5, 000. Finally, the protesters are sending mixed messages as
well. Their statements regarding this dispute can be seen as being
contradictory. The protestors are using many different arguments in order to
show their disgust for Makah whaling. However, they are displaying ethnocentrism
in these views. Their main issue is that only the Makah have this right to
whale, and not everyone else. Some protestors say that their concern is for the
protection of the whale, and has nothing to do with racism as some Native people
have charged. Kenny Clark, of the Oregon based Sea Defense Alliance says,
“I don’t see the race issue. It’s about an animal people feel very
passionate about and people are just angry.” However, if it has nothing to
do with a race issue, then one has to question the reasoning for the threats
being made against the Makah. At one rally, protestors held up such signs as,
“Save the whales. Kill a Makah.” Also, a bomb threat was made to a
local school at the Puyallup Reservation after a Puyallup canoe joined the Makah
as the whale was towed to shore. This led Terre Rybovich, of the Coalition for
Human Dignity to state, “One whale was killed. In response, the lives of
hundreds of Indian children were threatened.” Another fact that shows that
the issue is not simply about the protection of the whale is the statements made
concerning the possibility of the Makah beginning to sell the whales that they
have successfully hunted. The protesters are trying to imply that the Makah want
to whale so that they can sell commercially. They argue that one gray whale can
fetch as much as one million dollars in Japan. But yet, the Makah have agreed to
whale no more than 20 whales until 2002, which was 5 per year at the time of the
controversy. In conclusion, one can clearly see that the reporting of the Makah
whaling controversy was ethnocentric in many ways. The language used by the
media to describe the whale hunting showed bias towards the Makah and held them
out to be inhumane savages. As well, the media is responsible for not providing
the reader with an accurate picture of the Makah and the importance of whaling
in their culture. Finally, protestors are angry that only the Makah have the
right to whale, and they are displaying this in various ways such as racist
actions. The white man took away their tradition in the 1920’s, and they will
take it away again. This will be done either by giving the right to whale to
everyone, and once again bring the gray whale close to extinction, or by
crushing the remains of the tribe until they give up their right on their own.

(1999, May 18) “Stop the Whale Hunt”. {October 30, 1999} Available: Author Unknown. (1999, May
22) “Racism Enters Whale Dispute”. {October 25, 1999} Available:;ID=s580242;cat=
Anderson, Peggy. (1998, November 2) “Melee during anti-whaling
demonstration Shakes both sides”. {November 2, 1999} Available:
Anderson, Peggy. (1999, May 21) “Anti- Makah Protests Turn Ugly”.

{November 3, 1999} Available: asp?Date=052199;ID=s580004;cat=}
Dark, Alx. (1999, April) “The Makah Whale Hunt”.{October 28, 1999}.

Available: Dube, Jonathan. (1999, May
18) “Plenty of Meat To Go Around”. {October 26, 1999} Available: Webster,
John. (1998, November 3) “Anything for an unworthy cause”. {October
29, 1999} Available:;ID=s477881;cat=


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