A Facebook Discussion Puts the Makah Whale Hunt on Trial

thunderbird1There are just a few days left to comment on granting permission to the Makah to resume their hunt of the gray whale.  Summary information is available here.   Written comment on the alternatives will be accepted at makah2015deis.wcr@noaa.gov.  THE DEADLINE IS JULY 31 (this Friday).

See this video for the Makah perspective and their reflection on the controversial 1999 hunt.  They describe how the whale hunt has enormous community value (one guy even stopped substance abuse) and is biologically responsible in terms of the whale population (which they avoided for decades because of depressed populations from excessive white hunting).  They do not mention a subsistence need, and indeed describe all the other seafood they eat.

On Facebook I was able to observe a discussion of the Makah plans by a group of whale biologists, environmentalists, liberals, and animal rights activists.  Some sympathized with the Makah, some were torn, and some opposed.  The interesting part was the remarkable array of attacks on the Makah.  Here are some examples:

  • “Don’t know the value of actually killing the actual whale when so many substitute ways can be found to celebrate the whale spiritually – dances, ceremonies, totems, songs.”
  • “Just because the tribe has done it before does not make it right. In logic we call that an appeal to tradition fallacy. The ‘tradition fallacy’ is closely related to the ‘natural fallacy’. Both say that a practice is justified by the fact that it was done before. An example is human slavery. No one would justify keeping human slaves on the basis of the fact that it was indeed ‘tradition’ throughout most of human history.”
  • “If the Makah have the ability to make a video about it – they can find some other source of food.”
  • “So because Native Americans were treated terribly in the past we have to allow them to kill when there is no reason other than they want to do it?”
  • “Female circumcision is also a tradition! Bad one! Tradition should not be the key to FREE meat. And ask what kind of tradition claim six or 12 or ….. whales. The Faroe Islands are slaughtering pilot whales these days and say it’s tradition. The tradition content is that they use’d to harvest meat from the sea. So at the end of the day do we allow some ‘tribes’ to get their free meat from the ocean or not?”
  • “No one is trying to force any changes on tradition except the actual slaughter of Whale’s . They can still teach tradition just do it with out the actual blood of a living animal that is not healthy for humans to eat.. One does not have to participate in a tradition to learn about a tradition.”
  • “I value the lives of those whales as much as the lives of those Makah people and what I see is – loss of life versus “having to change a traditional practice”. In my view there is no contest.”
  • “Heard of any Makah people starving lately?”
  • “Check out the photo above of Makah tribesman celebrating after they’ve tortured and killed a sentient being. Yeah – real respectful and traditional, They had better watch out and not get their Land’s End jackets dirty!”
  • “there is nothing traditional about going in out in motorized boats and killing animals and then selling the meat to other countries – which is exactly what the Makah do!” [Note: the latter claim is false.]
  • “I am concerned with the last kill…meat was wasted…”
  • “I’m learning about culture and diversity right this moment in my Human Realtions class. Culture is defined as something passed down and taught in generations… so then, what is tradition? Many tribes have hunted whales and no longer do so…why all of a sudden do they want to, is the question that needs to be answered. What was the reason for it in the past when they did? Sustenance? Do tribes change? Is it really still a needed tradition in the tribe?  They haven’t practiced it nor have they handed down the trait in the traditional cultural way to the generation who wants to do this now. That means their tradition and culture changed. Then I would have to ask, for what purpose is this for? Simply because you want to revive this tradition?”

All in all, it’s a remarkable display of white privilege.  These people do not have to fight for their traditional activities in court or defend themselves from claims they are selling to the Japanese, nor worry defend what jacket they wear while they do it, or if they leave some food uneaten, or how critical it is to their survival, or what it means to their family or their community or their culture.

The Makah celebrate after killing a gray whale in 1999.  They have been fighting for 16 years to resume their hunt.

The Makah celebrate after killing a whale in 1999. They have been fighting for 16 years to resume their hunt.

There were a few nice counter-arguments from allies, one of whom lived for a time among the Makah:

  • “White people have been trying to forcibly teach native americans the difference between right and wrong for centuries. Suggesting that we’ve got the right to make moral decisions for the Makah who want to take a few gray whales each year is also a tradition fallacy.”
  • “I have big problems with the fact that we think we get to demand whaling bans and critique Native American culture and expect them to change while – until recently – we were pretty much fine with, or at least tolerant of things like Sea World and the capture and manipulation of “sentient animals” for capitalist profit. Plus, a lot of them died, or suffered severely. Plus, a lot of whales suffer and die from industrial fishing practices. But the Native Americans who have pretty intense respect and care for whales and their tradition are the guys we decide to crack down on? WTF?”
  • “I have a hard time separating this from other examples of white supremacy surfacing all over the country with the murders of black folks. To be honest, my priorities lie with them in that battle and I haven’t given much thought to my feelings about whale hunting. But – the common thread is (mostly) white people with assumed power telling communities of color what they should or should not do, and it doesn’t sit well with me regardless of the context in which it is happening. There’s no accountability amongst white people – we take and conquer and demand and tear apart treaties and we don’t ever question our motives or impacts on the communities we pretend like we own.”
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2 Responses to A Facebook Discussion Puts the Makah Whale Hunt on Trial

  1. The Historical Diaries says:

    I as a person could never kill an animal, and fail to understand the enjoyment people get from it. I almost wish it was entirely outlawed, but who am I to judge ? and im sure there is plenty I do that others would bawk at. so to each their own

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