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The Makah Indian Whaling Indigenous Right orFor hundreds of centuries the Makah Indians haverevolved their culture and traditions around whaling Ithas been part of their tradition as long as the tribe hasever existed In the early part of this century the Makahvoluntarily abandoned the whale hunt in recognition of theprecarious situation of the gray whale When the whalewas listed as an endangered species in 1969 the hunt wasofficially banned The Makah were formally forced to giveup whaling After seventy years however the Makah areonce again in a position to whale They wish to do so onthe basis of the importance of whaling to their traditional culture This wish however is highly controversial It is has stirred up much dissent among numerous groups including the International Whaling Commission the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and numerous animal rights groups Even the Makah themselves are not fully united on this issue of whaling This paper examines the importance of the whale hunt to Makah culture and discusses the changing nature of tradition The question is presented as to whether the Makah are reestablishing tradition or simply pursuing a viable commercial opportunityThe Makah Indians are indigenous to what is nowWashington State Their population is small only abouttwo thousand people are on the tribal rolls TheEconomist 1998 Their traditional culture like allindigenous groups was completely toppled by the arrivaland eventual dominance of non-Native European groups tothis continent during the fifteenth and sixteenthcenturies Makah tradition included as one of its corecomponents many of the same hunting and gatheringpractices employed by other indigenous peoples Much oftheir livelihood and material culture was based on theirextensive whale hunting activities In 1928 recognizingthe precarious status of the whale population the Makahvoluntarily abandoned their tribal tradition and gave upwhale hunting Russell 1999 In 1969 however thewhale hunt was officially taken from the Makah with itsplacement on the endangered species list Blow 1998 Without the whale hunt the Makah became even moredistanced from their traditional culture
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