Whale Hunt Unleashes Anti-Indian Furor

Native Americans

Hoping to restore "discipline and pride" in their youth through the revival of an ancient tradition, members of the Makah Indian tribe of Washington state this spring resumed a practice they had abandoned 70 years ago: the whale hunt.

But far different sentiments than pride have resulted.

After a group of Makah fishermen killed a gray whale, an anti-Indian furor erupted in this outdoorsy, environmentalist part of the country. Sympathy for the whale, whose death was widely covered in Seattle newspapers and on television news, quickly turned into hatred of the Makahs in particular and Native Americans in general.

In recent months, Makahs have been inundated with death threats, their schools evacuated due to bomb scares, and their reservation placed on "war-time" alert. Protesters have paraded with signs proclaiming "Save a whale, harpoon a Makah," written into local newspapers inquiring about "where to apply for a license to kill an Indian," and even set up a Web page (www.makah.org) mocking the official Makah site (www.makah.com). Tribe members have been publicly labeled "drunkards," "savages" and "laggards."

In fact, the Makahs were completely within their rights. An 1855 treaty, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, guarantees their right to hunt gray whales.

Ted Kerasote, author of Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt, told the Seattle Times that white reaction "reveals a particular hypocrisy in American culture. Many Americans publicly espouse diversity and multiculturalism. ... But the moment a native community does something that doesn't fit into our preconceived notions of who we want aboriginals to be, we threaten our wrath — the wrath of the majority."