Five Years After the Makah Historical Whale Hunt 

Reflections of Makah Whaling Captain Wayne Johnson

As told to Keith Hunter

  Makah Whaler, Edward Curtis 1900

    When I grew up here on the reservation I was told my tribe has over five hundred songs and dances on whaling and thunderbirds.  There is so much to learn it took me fifty years to figure out what just some of this means.   It has always been important to my people and still is a big thing with me.  We have to keep moving the importance of our whaling forward. 

   May 17, 2004 is the fifth anniversary of when the Makah whaling crew that I was captain of landed our first whale in seventy years on our beach.  I hoped by now we would have landed more whales to feed our people and to continue the healing our community needs.   Instead we are worse off in many ways than we were then. 

  Instead of practicing the lifetime of training that gives our young people mental and spiritual preparation for life our treaty rights are in the court system where our sacred whaling practices are being compared to Moby Dick in the introduction to the opinion from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Our cultural practices are documented archeologically and existed centuries before Europeans arrived.  We are Makah and not a book of fiction.

   Instead of feeding our families with traditional food that has been proven to overcome the sicknesses of diabetes and heart disease we continue to be forced to depend upon commodities that are not healthy for our people.  Instead of being able to feed ourselves from our sustainable food resources we are forced to be deprived of the self respect that comes from taking care of our own well being.
    The children in the school look up to the whalers in the village because they remember the preparation, strength, and discipline that the whalers demonstrated.  The children ask me if they will someday be able to hunt whales as we did.  Instead of being able to start training them to take their place as whalers I have to say “I hope so” or “maybe someday”. 
     The students made a canoe this year for the Canoe Journeys. Deep inside they know they should be Makah whalers preparing for the whale hunt as they were born to be and do.  How do I explain to them that our ancestors specifically reserved to us the right to whale in our treaty but now this right is being denied by the government that promised to defend our treaty? 

     Five years ago I witnessed people in our village find our deeper pride and meaning in being Makah.  Many stopped drinking or doing drugs to participate in our whaling practices.  I saw people busy working on the many jobs that it takes for the whaling crew and the feast to happen.  Five years later I see that without whaling in our village that we are again struggling without our some of our key traditional practices.  We are whaling people, and without whaling, we continue to suffer.

     Whaling and thunderbird songs and dances passed down through centuries are the heart and soul of Makah.  I will never end my efforts to be who I am:  a Makah whaler.  I will continue to keep our Makah whaling way of life for our future generations just as our grandparents and those before them kept it for us today.  Five years from now I hope to look back upon this difficult time and remember it as when America kept America’s promise to my people.

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