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Treaty Breaking

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

Treaty Breaking

Loren D. Birdrattler : : 2000-06-16

I ran across your website and found it interesting, yet offensive.

I am not completely certain about the laws of Canada or how it is that they deal with Native American/Government rights. I do know in the United States this country was founded on the basis of freedom and separation of powers. Our Constitution allows us to practice certain rights as citizens of the United States.

This country throughout its early history signed many treaties (pacts, legal binding agreements, etc.) that it has violated and sometimes disregarded. In the second half of this century, the U.S. Government has begun to take responsibility for some of the violations it has committed in its early history. By taking responsibility, the U.S. has agreed to legally carry out the rights it has violated in earlier treaties it has entered into.

The rights of the Makah Tribe to hunt is one of the inherent rights that they have been given.

It might be easier for you to work toward a solution by being innovative with your ideas to come up with a peaceful solution as opposed to throwing insults and silly accusations.

Most Native Americans care much more about the environment and animals than the average population of North America. We usually stand next to environmental groups united to stop oil and gas drilling on our lands, to come up with a solution for brucelosis infected buffalo and many other causes. The very soul of our tradition is to preserve life while at the same time surviving on the land.

That may have been true when Native Americans were still living off the land, but from what I have seen (e.g. salmon extinctions) they are just as greedy and short-sighted as whites when it comes to exploiting natural resources.

I believe it was your ancestors that had absolutely no regard for environmental issues. Native cultures tried since the inception of Western movement to teach by example that you need only to take what you can use.

Your assertions about the Makah and the comparisons about them being hunted by Caucasians is similar to the situation now couldn’t be further from the truth. The insults that you have bestowed upon them are immature and ridiculous. The tactics you use to prove your point are barbaric and quite offensive. If I didn’t know you were an evironmentalist and animal rights advocate, I would think you were a Republican or a member of the Christian Coalition with the tactics that you are deploying.

Drastic measures, such as a threatened suicide are indeed offensive. However, I consider the murder of a whale a serious crime, far more serious than killing a human. Offensive crimes call for offensive measures to prevent them.

If you would like to get your point across than be assertive and research both sides of the issue instead of being so headstrong about your feelings and opinions. I would bet that you know little about the Makah, their rich culture and tradition, their current state of economy, the social problems that exist, the history of alcoholism and Native Americans.

Frankly, I don’t care about the Makah. They are unimportant compared with the whales. Any minor inconvenience to them is negligible compared with saving a whale’s life. I saw them on TV dancing and diving off the whale corpse. The people who participated in that hunt were a bunch of alcoholic yahoos. I have almost no sympathy with the Makah hypocrites who advertised the hunt as a religious rite.

You just stand by, gather an opinion and disperse false information while knowing little about the specifics of the situation or history of the very thing you are speaking out against.

Below you will find an article I came across researching this issue. It is an article I found on the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) website. You will find in the second paragraph, information regarding the treaty I was referring to in the original email.

When I referred to their inherent rights to hunt, I wasn’t referring to their Constitutional right, but rather their Treaty right as a federally recognized quasi-sovereign nation.


It is the very northwestern corner of the United States. As isolated as it is beautiful, the 109.27 sq kms (42.19 sq miles) Makah Indian Reservation occupies a craggy point of land that juts out into the Pacific. It is a land of misty woods, tall Douglas fir and ancient cedar. Historically, the Makah were people of the sea, who surrendered the claim to some of their land in 1855 in order to get a treaty guaranteeing extensive fishing and whaling rights. Whaling was banned early in this century and in recent decades catches of salmon and halibut have dwindled. With unemployment hovering around 50 percent, half of the reservation’s families have incomes before the poverty level.

Now, a return to whaling has been seized as a way to economic and spiritual recovery. The Makah are the only tribe that preserve the right to kill whales in their original treaties. And through the first decades of this century whaling was a principal source of subsistence and income. The Makah favored Humpback whales to eat. Gray whales were harvested for both meat and oil. And at the peak of the whaling thousands of barrels of lamp oil were sent East from Neah Bay each year. Whaling ended in 1927 and the tribe shifted its attention to fishing and logging. The Makah claimed their ancestors have been whaling here for a thousand years, but it’s been 70 years since anyone has gone on a whale hunt and no one alive has been whaling. It was only when the gray whale came off the endangered species list that some in the tribe said time to start again. The annual Makah Day celebration this year was unusually festive as the tribe celebrated the news that it had won the right to resume whaling.

The International Whaling Commission, in a much disputed decision, allowed a whale hunt to proceed but without voting official approval. And now groups of Makah are practicing in their huge cedar dugout canoes on Neah Bay. One man will be chosen to hand harpoon the whale and another to kill it, they hope with a single shot from a huge 50-caliber rifle. They would be permitted to harpoon or wound up to nine whales to capture their quota of five. Micah McCarty is a 27-year-old Makah man training for the hunt.

Legislation and Court decisions have broken many treaties between the United States and Indian nations, if you look at the Supreme Court rulings in the past ten years, a good portion deal with States, Counties and the U.S. Government’s violation of Treaties whether it be water rights, hunting/fishing rights or land disputes. So yes, they can just abrogate or disregard a treaty. It certainly isn’t something that happens in this day and age, but it certainly has happened throughout the U.S.’s young history.

The deplorable history of the US Federal Government’s duplicity in making treaties with Native Americans is coming to light. However, blocking the Makah hunt does not fall into that category. The issue was debated in the appeals court. It was legal. The original treaty stated that the right to kill whales was only valid if killing whales generally was permitted. Times have changed. We are now beginning to realise it is morally inexcusable to kill a whale. A British group did the main legal work. You could argue the Makah should be compensated for their loss, but clearly the Federal Government had the right to ban whaling generally. We can’t continue behaving like savages for time indefinite just because of treaties our ignorant ancestors negotiated.

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