Tribe could resume whale hunt after 20-year battle with activists

A Native American tribe in Washington State may have a chance to resume its traditional gray whale hunt after battling environmental and animal activist groups for decades due to a Seattle judge’s recommendation.

The Makah Indian Tribe’s whale hunting tradition goes back centuries, but has not been practiced since 1999, when the tribe’s first hunt in 70 years outraged viewers around the world who saw footage on TV, condemning the hunt for its violence, according to KING 5.

The tribe had agreed previously to not hunt the gray whales in the preceding decades due to a decline in population.

Now, a judge is recommending that the tribe be able to hunt three gray whales per year as the whale numbers continue to rebound.

Patrick DePoe — Vice-Chairman of the Makah Tribal, who was 16 years old during the 1999 hunt — told KING 5 that the hunt is part of the soul of Makah tribe members.

“It was something missing that I didn’t even know was missing until I was out there with it,” he said.

Quickly after the 1999 hunt was broadcast worldwide, environmental groups took action to ban future whale hunts. Hearings have been held in Seattle since 2019 to decide on the matter.

DePoe recognized the important legal victory of the judge’s recommendation, however acknowledged that it has taken a long time to get to this point, and there is still more to go with three weeks of public hearings expected to begin in Seattle next week, KING 5 reported.

Patrick DePoe, the Vice-Chairman of the Makah Tribe, spoke on the importance of the hunt to his culture.
Patrick DePoe, the Vice-Chairman of the Makah Tribe, spoke on the importance of the hunt to his culture.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] will make the final decision on the matter.

“I can’t help but reflect on the people we’ve lost over the years trying to get to this point. There are people who have passed on. There are people who have aged to the point where they might not be able to jump into a canoe and take part in something so dangerous,” he told the outlet.

“We have to finish this,” said DePoe. “We have to follow this process through. There is a finish line and there is a group that is ready to jump in and start training as soon as we give that green light.”

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society — who is challenging the tribe in court — had no comment on the decision, according to KING 5.

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