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Makah Revisited

Here is an email I received in response to one of my essays.

Makah Whale Sacrifice Revisited

Joshua Monette : : 2014-09-20

I am a 16 year old young man of the Makah Indian Nation. I found it difficult to read your opinion on my people and my peoples’ motives. I do not wish to blatantly tell you that you are wrong but rather to tell you that your information is off and it seems that you are rather ill informed about my people. I would appreciate it if we could email a bit, I would like to know your honest opinion on things and have a civil discussion about the rights and beliefs of the Makah People; my people


Various members of the Makah band spoke publicly about the primary motive for the whale sacrifice being to help the alcoholism problem by improving self esteem with a traditional ceremony. I did not make this up. When people such as myself complained this was nutty, we were accused of trying to keep the Makah down. To me it was as crazy as Aztecs ripping the heart out of a virgin to improve the corn crop.

The conflict I write about on my website occurred in the spring of 1999. You would have been about one year old at the time, so you it is unlikely you remember the events first hand. I don’t think the newsreels of the event broadcast on TV at the time are still available online. It thus unlikely you saw the drunk young man dancing on the corpse of the whale then doing a backflip. It is unlikely you saw footage of the merry multi-day religious ceremony. Your sources of information would thus be friends and relatives who naturally will tend to put themselves in a better light. It is unlikely they told you about the shameful way they harassed elder Alberta Nora Thompson (1923-12-03 2012-04-11 age:88) simply because she felt the hunt was an anachronism.

You could also read some of the feedback I received back then or google to see what information is still available.

Here in Canada, the first nations people are the heroes of the environmental movement. They are leading the fight to protect the environment. Other tribes gave up whale killing long ago. I have absolutely no bone to pick with them. I was angry only with the Makah for coming up with a sadistic and hare-brained idea to deal with alcoholism then used all manner of thuggery and lies to promote it. No other tribe did anything like that. You are a Makah. It is very uncomfortable when your own people act like assholes. I have the same problem being a white Canadian. My ancestors were land thieves and genocidal maniacs. However, denial is not the way out. I support first nations land claims and moves for full equality. I can’t do much to make the situation better without first acknowledging it.

As a Makah you don’t believe whales are your superiors. So you have to ascribe racist or other motives to me because you don’t believe I could be serious about my reason for objecting to killing whales. But consider I worked researching cetacean intelligence. You did not. I am not about to take your second-hand information over my first-hand information. None of your ancestors ever had the scientific equipment to study whales with the detail I did. It must be obvious to you that a whale’s brain is much larger than yours. If it is just a giant waterpig, why bother with such as energetically-expensive organ? Brains are extremely expensive evolutionarily. Read up on it.

I have written three essays on whaling, the first was mostly about the Makah hunt. I have pretty well said anything I have to say on the matter in those essays.

Makah Whale Sacrifice Revisited

Joshua Monette : : 2014-09-20

You are utterly wrong if you believe that you are more informed on the issue than I. Your resources I suppose are limited to the media, who covered the "action" but did little to find a deeper understanding and what else? The Internet? Protesters such as yourself are not allowed to come onto the reservation, so you know nothing about how the whale was cared for and the ceremonies that were held. I doubt you knew how much they prayed on the beach as the whale was brought home, or how many prayers were done over the whale. It sounds to me like you have never actually stepped foot on our reservation, let alone talked with a tribal member about what the whale means to us. I have heard first hand accounts, talked to people who played major roles in the 1999 hunt and never do I hear anything as disrespectful of the whale as what you are saying.

If you ask somebody about how they behaved badly in past, they will never answer fully honestly. Ask some neutral people what they saw on TV or saw live. You sound like a young German denying the holocaust. See if can find any friends or family of elder Alberta Nora Thompson (1923-12-03 2012-04-11 age:88) They might may be able to open you to another point of view. If you are correct, I am insane. I must have hallucinated the whole thing. I ended up in the hospital and they told me I was very close to death. I had an operation. I have the scars, so it was not all made up. However, I think a more likely explanation is your friends are ashamed of what they did, so they are telling you a whitewashed edition, how they wished they had behaved. Perhaps one of them has some footage from the time. Ask them if they literally saw the beaching of the whale.

Never do we say "it is just food". The whale has long been cherished by my people, we prayed to the whale, we held it in high esteem as we did with the thunderbird. We cherish the whale because it has always taken care of our people. And as far as our "supposed" right to hunt whales goes; if thousands of years of ancestral hunting isn’t enough to assert our right, then how about the governmental treaties. Our ancestors knew that whaling, along with sealing and fishing is who we are as a people and they made sure to secure those rights for us, in a legal agreement. By not allowing us to hunt, the government is stopping our right to be as a people; it is an ongoing assimilation and oppression. We teach it in our schools so that the children may always know, we are whalers. This is something that will not be stopped. Protesters have stalled for years but we are on the brink of continuing our hunt. Our people will not stop until we resume our right. I can promise you this; someday soon, within the next few years, you will see young Makah language men set out in canoes and return the whale home to our people. I can also promise that things will be done in the highest respect for the whale, just as they were before. It is who we are, we are whalers.

I am pretty sure last time elders were humiliated by the drunken corpse dancing. They could not control the dancers. There is no way a young guy like you would be any more successful.

I watched it all live on TV. There was tremendous coverage. It was a media frenzy with confrontations, legal issues, international issues and high emotions. I was not reading media reports. There were cameras everywhere on land, sea and air. For me, this was a life an death issue. I was fasting to death. If you killed those whales I died too. This not the sombre event you imagine. You got second hand information aurally a decade and half later. I trust my own eyes far more than I trust what unnamed people told you. You are living an dream world, a whitewash of one the most shameful chapters in Makah history. There was absolutely no respect shown the whale. There was drunken shouting and dancing. Dig about. See for yourself. Surely someone still has the footage. I will never forget it. I considered killing every Makah in a suicide attack I was so furious.

The Makah lied to the world. They said they were about to perform an traditional ceremony, a whale sacrifice. For traditional reasons, they should not be held to the same respect for endangered species as modern peoples. Further, it would be limited to one whale. Then they used motor boats, rifles and drunken dancing on the corpse and a big party hardly what the world expected of their traditional ceremony promise. Then they tried to kill multiple whales. They were all talk of deep respect for the spirit of the whale, then danced on its corpse. The Makah, with a few exceptions, were utter bullshitters. Those were your people. Live with the shame instead of weaselling out of it. The whole world was revolted by that video and the duplicity. The courts came down hard and put and end to any more such hunts.

If there was any praying, it was nowhere near the whale corpse. All the people surrounding the whale were pissed to the gills. However, praying does not excuse murdering a whale, anymore than me praying would excuse me murdering you. The Aztecs had a traditional right to rip people hearts out, the Indonesians had a traditional right to collect heads, The British had a traditional right to bull baiting… You get the idea. But they grew up and put away childish brutal ignorant behaviours. What the Makah are doing is worse than sacrificing children. You want a pass to slaughter based on tradition. Are you daft?

The Makah at the time had a real fuck-you attitude to anyone who expressed opposition. It was a real hard-line Jews vs Palestinians situation. They liked to taunt the bleeding hearts by rubbing it in that they were going to kill all the whales they damn well pleased and nobody could do a thing about it. They saw absolute no legitimacy to the stance whales should be left alone, even though all the nearby BC tribes took that view. They believed the only possible motive for opposing the hunt was racism — a desire to put the Makah down. Trying to point out that the opposition was only to the whale hunt, not other hunts and not other tribes, fell on deaf ears.

But the drunken dancing is beside the much more important point. The problem was murdering an intelligent sentient being with brain many times the size of yours. How you murdered it is no more relevant than precisely how you had sacrificed a child for your ceremony. My big complaint with you and the Makah is you don’t make any distinction between hunting a whale and hunting a moose. You do, however, make a distinction between hunting a moose and hunting a human. For me, hunting a whale is considerably more wrong than hunting a human. To me, you are trying to defend something more wrong than killing a child because you prayed when you commited the murder. To me that is bonkers. Prayer would not excuse butching a child so why would it excuse an even more serious crime of butchering a whale?

I don’t blame you for holding your view. Most people do, including people who should know better, such as the director of the Vancouver aquarium. Whales don’t look very intelligent. It is only when you study their ultrasonic communications do you begin to realize how complex they are. I am in a very unusual position in having spent time studying and interacting cetacea with advanced scientific equipment.

There is a move called Johnny Got His Gun about a guy so badly injured in war that people presumed he was just a vegetable. A nurse discovers he is conscious, however, the powers that be squash knowledge of that. It would be too disruptive to acknowledge the suffering they have been causing. That what happens to cetaceans. People make money out of ignoring their intelligence.

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