Letter published online by the Student Activist Network, 17 March 1999
The controversy surrounding the Makah whale hunt is not about grey whales but about native rights.
The Makah intend to kill roughly five gray whales. They will be harpooning the whales from dug-out wooden canoes, and then, to address the issue of animal rights, finish the whales off with a shotgun to prevent any unnecessary suffering. This custom (minus the shotgun) far out-dates the presence of Europeans on the West Coast of North America. Cultural reclaimation by First Nations needs to be supported, not attacked.
There are some problems with Tom Pirosok’s suggestion that “everyone has to decide together that whales have to be protected, no?” For one, this is the first Makah hunt in years. The Makah respected the ‘endangered species list’ while the whales were deemed to be endangered and suspended the hunt. Second, ‘everyone’ should not be deciding ‘together’ what needs to be done: this argument glosses over the rights of a persecuted minority – whether to hunt or not to hunt is the decision of the Makah themselves.
The Anti-Whaling Coalition wreaks of racism. While it includes bona fide environmentalist, they are joined by opportunistic whale-watching companies whose motor boats and invasive practices do far more damage to the marine life of the West Coast than the Makah hunt ever will (I’ve been on one of those tour boats, and they blindly weave through pods of whales trying desperately to escape; in the summer fifty boats a day shuttle to and from Victoria). Jump on the ‘save the whales’ bandwagon, toss in the guaranteed point-scorer of anti-native bigotry, and you have the sentiment driving many (though admittedly not all) of those opposing the whale hunt.
First nations self-determination – a concept I hope most people on this list accept as a given – involves allowing First Nations people to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives. Let’s leave it at that.