CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From thernPacific Northwestrnby Jonathan EllisrnSlaughter on the High SeasrnThe sun had not yet risen when a crew ofrnseven Makali Indians launched its handcarvedrncedar canoe into the frigid watersrnaround Neah Bay, Washington. Therncrew paddled west through the Strait ofrnJuan de Fuca and rounded Cape Flatteryrn—the westernmost point of the continentalrnUnited States—before settling intornthe Pacific Ocean. The water wasrncalm that morning of May 17, nothingrnlike it had been earlier in the year whenrnfurious waves smashed a freighter tornpieces off the coast of Oregon. Thernhunters tacked southward. Hugging thernWashington coast, they piloted the canoernthrough the same hunting grounds that,rnaccording to tribal history, the Makahrnhave stalked for 2,000 years.rnThe hunting party had not gone unnoticed.rnA platoon of reporters, bivouackedrnat Neah Bay, waited for word on thernhunt. News helicopters trailed the canoernfrom above. Under normal conditions, arnband of Indians prowling America’srncoastal hinterlands in a dugout canoernwould probably not qualify as “news” —rnnot unless an Fnglish princess or a Hollywoodrnactor were also on board. But thisrnhimting party was special.rnShortly before 7:00 A.M., local televisionrnstations in western Washington carriedrnthe breaking news live, as a beefyrnMakah Indian heaved an enormous harpoonrninto the back of a gray whale. In thernensuing struggle, the whale could havernflipped the canoe and sent its crew airbornernwith a swipe of its powerful tail. Itrndidn’t, and two more harpoons followedrnthe first. From a motorized support boat,rna Makah gunner added two wallopingrnhits from a .577-caliber rifle to make thernkill as quickly and painlessly as possible.rnIn less than ten minutes—slightly longerrnthan it takes some fishing enthusiasts tornreel in a spirited bass—the whale floatedrnquietly in seawater thick with blood.rnFor news organizations, gory footagernof the return of whaling to the conhnentalrnUnited States was a brilliant way tornkick off the day. For breakfast-eaters heldrncaptive by the tube, the coverage probablyrnruined a few appetites. For thernMakah nation, its first successful whalernhunt in over seven decades represented arnmajor step forward in its struggle to reclaimrncommunity spirit and cultural heritage.rnLike most Indian nations that aren’trnserendipitously located near a major populationrncenter from which vast fortunesrncan be sucked through the hoses of gambling,rnthe Makah nation languishes in remotenessrnand poverty—both in relationrnto the rest of die countrv’ and to its culturalrnpast. (Not that communities which arernsituated beyond the horizon of a striprnmall and are too poor to support a McDonald’srnare a bad thing.) But once uponrna hme, before the days of the Bureaurnof Indian Affairs and welfare checks, thernMakah nation had been wealthy andrnpowerful by aboriginal standards.rnWhaling was a dominant feature ofrnMakah culture. The tribe’s best huntersrnfaced the giant beasts armed with primitivernweapons and courage. The combatrnwas mortal; not infrequently, the whalernwas the one who swam on. There was nornOSHA to insist on worker safct), just arncommunity that counted on its starrnhunters to provide. Yet by the 1920’s, thernMakah found providing to be nearly impossible.rnCommercial whalers from allrnover the world had hunted grays and otherrnspecies to the brink of extinction. Tornmake matters worse, the Makah werernnearly extinct themselves; disease hadrnculled their number to only a few hundred.rnFaced with diminished stock ofrnboth prey and hunters, the Makah suspendedrnwhaling.rnThe Makah nation steps into the 21strncentury chained to the staggering burdensrnit accumulated in the 20th: drugrnand alcohol abuse combined with thernusual mixers of extreme povert) and unemployment.rnA vast majority of Makahrnbelieve the way to reverse the nasty effectsrnof modernity is to revive the traditionsrnand customs of centuries past. Whalingrnis paramount.rnShortly after the hunting party hadrnslain the tribe’s first whale in 70 years,rnnews reports indicated that the whale hadrnfilled with water and sunk. (One of thernhunters was supposed to leap into the icyrnwater and sew the whale’s month shut beforernit filled.) But these reports turnedrnout to be bogus, and by 5:30 that evening,rnfive canoes—the victorious hunting party,rnand four canoes representing otherrnarea tribes—towed the carcass to a beachrnlined with hundreds of cheering Makahrnat Neah Bay. Super’ised by an AlaskanrnInuit, the butchering commenced. Thernmeat was packed off to family freezers,rnand Makah leaders made plans to host arnpotlatch that would include tribes fromrnthe western United States and Canada.rnFour hours southeast of Neah Bav,rnhowever, reaction to the hunt in Seattlernand its surrounding boroughs was anythingrnbut celebratory. In this region,rnwhere a sizable population regards Savingrnthe Whales as man’s principal calling,rnthe hunt unleashed a firestorm ofrnwrath. As Air Marshal Clinton’s Luftwafferncontinued to menace Yugoslavrncivilians, the hearts and minds of thernNorthwest’s humanitarians were withrnthat poor whale.rnNative American influences are foundrnmore in the Pacific Northwest than inrnmost regions of the country. Roads arernfestooned with totem poles, and peoplernsympathize with Native American causes.rnFrom this pool, the Makah enjoyedrntheir share of supporters, people whornasked, “Wliat’s the big deal if they kill arnfew gray whales each year?”rnThis sentiment, however, barely registeredrnin relation to the screeching of thernnature-is-more-important-than-peoplerncrowd. Environmentalism trumps culturalrnheritage in the Northwest. Sadly,rnfar more people opposed the hunt thanrnopposed NATO’s freewheeling campaignrnagainst Serbian mothers-to-be.rnThe Makah, one woman told a reporter,rnhad “set the world back hundredsrnof years.” On the opinion page of a regionalrnnewspaper, a writer urged that wern”fly our precious stars and stripes at halfmastrnto honor the fallen gray whale heroinernand to mark a sad day in our nation’srnhistorv’.” One man courageously vowedrnto liquidate his private holding of Makahrnart, which he no doubt kept in a comfortablernupper-middle-class or upper-classrnhome. Another wrote, “The sight ofrnthem eating raw pieces of the blubberrnbordered on cannibalism,” and concludedrnthat the Makah had awakened “oldrnhatreds and racism.”rnOn the racism count, at least, she wasrn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn