Washington’s Tribal Hunting Waiver Divides Public Opinion

A waiver has been granted allowing the Native American Makah tribe to continue ceremonial hunting traditions, a decision which has caused both celebration and consternation from different groups.

20 Years of Waiting

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For two decades the Native American Makah tribe has been pursuing the legal right to continue their traditional whale hunting in the state of Washington. This week their goal was finally accomplished.

Makah Tribe Granted Waiver

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On Wednesday the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) announced that the Indigenous Makah people have been granted a waiver to harvest Eastern North Pacific grey whales off the Washington coast.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

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The waiver was granted by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and follows the whaling quotas established by the International Whaling Commission.

25 Whales Over 10 Years

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Makah tribal members will be granted the right to hunt a maximum of 25 gray whales over the next ten years. However, the waiver stipulates that only 3 whales can be harvested per year.

First Hunt in 25 Years

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Historically the tribe spent hundreds of years subsisting on the species, and this waiver will mark the first time they can legally continue the practice in 25 years.

Treaty of Neah Bay

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It also aligns with the Treaty of Neah Bay of 1855, which ceded land and “a limited subsistence and ceremonial hunt” of the grey whales as a continuation of the tribe’s cultural traditions.

A Unique Treaty Agreement

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The Makah are the only Indigenous tribe in the US who were granted the legal rights to hunt whales under a treaty.

Restoring Tradition

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Spokespeople for Nooa confirmed that the waiver was granted in an attempt to restore a long-held tradition of subsistence hunting for the tribe, as well as honor the treaty established 170 years ago.

“A Major Milestone”

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“This final rule represents a major milestone in the process to return ceremonial and subsistence hunting of Eastern North Pacific gray whales to the Makah Tribe,” said Nooa assistant administrator Janet Coit.

Dating Back 1000s of Years

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“The measures adopted today honor the Makah Tribe’s treaty rights and their cultural whaling tradition that dates back well over 1,000 years, and is fundamental to their identity and heritage,” she added.

Makah Tribe Celebrates

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The news has been a source of celebration for the Makah tribe, who consist of 1,500 members and reside on the Olympic Peninsula.

Central to Their Identity

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Timothy J. Greene Sr., chairman of the Makah Tribal Council released a written statement announcing the waiver. “Whaling remains central to the identity, culture, subsistence, and spirituality of the Makah people, and we regard the Gray Whale as sacred,” he wrote.

Reconnecting to Whaling Customs

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“In the time since our last successful hunt in 1999, we have lost many elders who held the knowledge of our whaling customs,” he continued. “and another entire generation of Makahs has grown up without the ability to exercise our Treaty right or experience the connections and benefits of whaling that our ancestors secured for us.”

Sued in 1999

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The Makah tribe carried out their last successful whaling hunt in 1999 before animal rights groups sued them, successfully lobbying the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rescind government approval of tribal whaling.

Waiver Application

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Tribes were told they must apply for a waiver under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. They first applied in 2005, and have spent nearly 20 years trying to push through their application.

Animal Rights Advocates Speak

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Despite tribal celebrations, several animal rights organizations including the Animal Welfare Institute and the North Coast Cetaceans Society have spoken out against the waiver and are deliberating on whether or not to contest the decision in court.

Protection Over Persecution

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“We hope that as this decision-making process plays out, perhaps the Makah Tribe and the government could reconsider the need to hunt whales and advocate for protection instead of persecution,” said DJ Schubert, a senior biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute.

Noaa Reacts

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While the Eastern North Pacific grey whales are an endangered species, Noaa spokesperson Michael Milstein maintains that these tribal hunting quotas “would not affect the population as a whole.”

Population Estimates

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The most recent population estimate for the species, taken between 2023 and 2024, recorded the grey whale population as between 17,400 and 21,300.

Many Regulations Involved

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Preparing for tribal hunts will not be simple or straightforward – the Makah people will still need to implement Noaa restrictions around timing, areas, reporting and monitoring, hunting permits, and other regulations.

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The post Washington’s Tribal Hunting Waiver Divides Public Opinion first appeared on Liberty & Wealth.

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