Whaling and the Nuu chah nulth People
by Tom Mexsis Happynook
[selections]: The Nuu chah nulth Whale Hunt 
A Symposium at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage Griffith Park, Los Angeles March 24, 200

In the Nuu-chah-nulth language "Hishuk Tsawalk", everything is one; everything is connected. 


     Uuk-ltha-ma Mauk-sis-a-noop, his-tuk-shilth Cha-Cha-tsi-us, uh-aa Huu-ay-aht, uh-aa Nuu-chah-nulth-aht. My Name is Mauk-sis-a-noop which means gray whale hunter. This name has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. My family comes from Carnation Creek which is part of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation which is a tribe within the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Group. My family has been a whaling family within our tribe for thousands of years, so please note that 1000, 3000, 5000 years from now: there will always be a Happynook whaling family, it will never end.

Nuu chah nulth Belief System

The Nuu chah nulth belief systems evolved within the natural limits of nature and has four principal spirit chiefs: on the land spirit chief; in the sky spirit chief; in the water spirit chief and beyond and below the horizon spirit chief. The last spirit chief is considered to be unattainable, unapproachable, unseeable and unknowable. Just as you can, and will, chase the horizon forever. We also believe there is a multiplicity of spirit forms that is found in everything that surrounds us. Respect is given to all natural resources for the many functions they play within Nuu-chah-nulth life. We always position ourselves in relation to nature because everything has a value other then its physical anatomy. For example, when we prepare to hunt a whale we not only acknowledge the spirit of the whale, but also extend our gratitude for the many products the whale is providing which helps us survive socially, culturally, spiritually and economically.
     Animals play an important role in Nuu chah nulth society because they express life in many ways. Wolves are considered to be our professors and pathfinders. Eagles express love, honor, peace and friendship. Otters teach us balance; not to be too serious; to have some fun. Mink express arrogance and self-importance. Bears express solitude, loneliness and strength. The octopus exhibits shyness, timidness but yet has great strength in its own environment. And in the case of the whale, they are considered to be the keeper's of the record.

The Importance of Nuu chah nulth Whaling

     Whaling within Nuu chah nulth society was the foundation of our economic structure. It provided valuable products to sell, trade and barter. In essence it was our national bank. Whaling strengthened, maintained and preserved our cultural practices, unwritten tribal laws, ceremonies, principles and teachings. All of these elements were practiced throughout the preparations, the hunt and the following celebrations. Whaling strengthened and preserved our spirituality and is clearly
illustrated through the discipline that the Nuu chah nulth hereditary whaling chiefs exemplified in their months of bathing, praying and fasting in preparation for the hunt. The whale strengthened our relationships with other nations and communities. People came from great distances and often resulted in intertribal alliances, relationships and marriages. The whale strengthened the relationships between families because everyone was involved in the processing of the whale, the celebrations, the feasting, and the carving of the artifacts that can still be seen today in many museums around the world. The whale strengthened the relationships between family members since everyone shared in the bounty of the whale. And the whale strengthened our people spiritually, psychologically and physically.

Health Benefits of Sea Mammals

     For thousands of years our ancestors and historical trading partners sustained optimum health by consuming the health-promoting meat and fats found in sea mammals. At that time it was the Nuu-chah-nulth sea mammal hunters who were making a fundamental contribution to the health of the people by providing sea mammal omega 3 essential fatty acids. Today our health is a far cry from the health of our ancestors and many suffer from numerous chronic, debilitating and
often life threatening illnesses such as: diabetes; heart diseases; high cholesterol; atherosclerosis; osteoporosis; rheumatoid arthritis; asthma; gingivitis and psoriasis. Clinical trials in Canada and experience over the past thousand years clearly indicate that the "Inuit diet" of sea mammal oil virtually eliminated the risk of death from heart and other related diseases. Clinical studies in the US, (Alaska), have also found that consumption of seal oil five times a week is an effective method of reducing glucose intolerance and diabetes. More then a dozen studies over the past ten years have shown that sea mammal omega 3 fatty acids can help alleviate some of the symptoms of arthritis including morning stiffness, fatigue, pain and the number of inflamed joints. This is simply because sea mammal oil is more readily absorbed into the bloodstream than are the omega 3 fats found in fish and flax seed. Whales and seals are mammals; we are mammals. Health is only one of the important reasons to reinstate our cultural practices.

Bio-Cultural Diversity

     When we talk about Nuu chah nulth cultural practices we are in fact talking about responsibilities that have evolved over millennia into unwritten tribal laws. These reflect our relations to the natural world, and are the product of the slow integration, or co-evolution, of our culture within our environment. Thus, the environment is not a place of divisions but a place of relations, a place where cultural diversity and bio-diversity are not separate, but are in fact interdependent. The most essential of these responsibilities are those that integrate people, (the human relationship), with the ecosystems found within their environment. Reflecting on the past, we can see that some Nuu chah nulth practices were purely of social and cultural importance (arranged marriages, etc.). But it is a fact that most Nuu chah nulth practices, such as fishing, hunting, gathering and whaling have a much deeper ecological management role. These Nuu chah nulth practices maintained the balance within nature, the environment and the ecosystems of which our people, with all our cultural institutions and practices, are an integral part. This is bio-cultural diversity, a complex state of environmental relationships. These relationships have developed and been nurtured over millennia and determine our fundamental obligations and responsibilities to the ecosystems which sustain us. 
     Science If we are not mindful, understanding, -- and most importantly -- observant of the world's hunter-gather societies we will eventually contribute to the extinction of cultures and traditional ecological knowledge --- the accumulation of ancient wisdom. I don't think any of you would want that as part of your memoirs. As French Author George Sand said, "we must accept truth even if it changes our point of view"

In the Nuu-chah-nulth language "Hishuk Tsawalk", everything is one; everything is connected. 

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