Sunday, May 11, 2008

Whaling Moan

This is another one of those news stories where the comments section is more illuminating than the story itself. The Makah Indians would like the opportunity to exercise their rights under an 1855 treaty and take up whaling again.

The readers of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who chose to comment on the topic display an effortless, reflexive paternalism that would not seem out of place at the East India Company. A "DennyP" quotes Article 4 of the treaty, which reads in part: "The right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the United States..." DennyP goes on to say, "As far as I know the rest of us aren't hunting whales anymore. In fact, it's against the law, and should be, IMHO." It's not against the law, DennyP, and we do take whales. In Alaska, the Inuits take about 50 bowhead whales a year.

"Pahart" takes a more compassionate tack: "While my sympathy lies with the Makah and I can have some feeling for why whaling is an important cultural tradition, we must ask: do they need whale flesh as food? The answer is: NO. Not only do they not need to eat it, but to do so would subject the eaters to the toxic waste soup that is contained in whale flesh and blubber. This could lead to a significant rise in cancer and endocrine-disruptive problems in the Makah population." See? Those people are too ignorant to make their own decisions. Why, they'd eat poison if we weren't here to stop them.

"Ahkamiokole" says, "No outboard motors, no tow boats, no rifles!" and "Kwisn" agrees: "Paddle out there, stick a stick in it with something tied on to float and slow it down, and then tow it back to the beach. We don't hunt with M-16's or FA-18 Hornets (I don't hunt at all, personal choice)." Because Native Americans have an obligation to remain in the Stone Age, so visiting them seems more like a theme park and we can feel all warm and squishy and superior for keeping them in their place -- er, maintaining their cultural integrity.

The Japanese, Russians, Norwegians, Canadians, Icelanders, and Greenlanders are all whaling nations, plus a few more that are really hard to pluralize. While I doubt they hunt with fighter jets (although that's a cool visual) nor do I think they paddle out there in a Nantucket Sleigh to heave harpoons at ol' Moby. They use modern technology to kill the whale with the least amount of suffering to the animal. Versus throwing a pointy stick -- think it over, treehugger. They take the parts of the whale that are commercially viable and toss the rest overboard, where other animals cheerfully eat it, or am I the only one who watches "Blue Planet." And it's not like we're talking about thousands of whales a year, like back when we used the blubber for fuel oil and the bones for corset stays. There's only so much whale people feel like eating in a year. The notorious over-fishers of Japan say they only kill about 50 a year, so even if they're lying by a lot, that would still be fewer than 300.

"JonS" has the last word: "...The Makah Tribe have certain traditions (songs and dances) that can only be performed when a whale is killed. Each family has their own set of traditions around a hunt. Furthermore each family has training traditions to prepare for a whale hunt. So without whaling a whole part of the Makah culture is lost." He said he got that information from the Environmental Impact Statement, which has since been taken down.

My advice to the Makah? Move to Canada. I'm sure by now you know better than to think the Great White Father will honor any stinking treaty.