NEAH BAY (September 24, 2007) — Five Makah tribal members were arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard after an unauthorized gray whale hunt in the waters east of Neah Bay Sept. 8. The men were later turned over to tribal police where they posted bail and await appearance in tribal court as well as possible federal charges.
“The Makah Tribal Council denounces the actions of those who took it upon themselves to hunt a whale without the authority from the Makah Tribal Council or the Makah Whaling Commission. Their action was a blatant violation of our law and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the Makah council said in a Sept. 10 statement.
Tribal representatives traveled to Washington, D.C. to assure the state’s congressional delegation and federal agencies that they were cooperating fully with National Marine Fisheries Service in their investigation of the incident and will also file charges against the men in tribal court.
The tribe legally harvested a single gray whale in 1999 under a federally-approved whale harvest plan. In 2002 a federal court ruled that the tribe had to obtain an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The ruling contradicts language in the act that specifically states that it is not meant to abrogate any Indian treaty. The Makah Tribe’s right to whale was reserved in the 1895 Treaty of Neah Bay.
The gray whale was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.Their populations are near historic highs. Since 1998, the Makah Tribe has received two five-year quotas to harvest up to five gray whales a year from the International Whaling Commission.
The tribe was in the final stages of obtaining a waiver from the MMPA when the unauthorized hunt occurred. “There are those who say this process should be halted or delayed now, but the unlawful actions of a few should have no bearing on this process and there is no indication that’s the case,” said Micah McCarty, Makah tribal council member. “Our treaty right does not change because of the actions of a few tribal members.”
“The Makah Tribe is a sovereign nation,” said Billy Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “Treaty Indian Tribes in western Washington fully support the Makah in their efforts to exercise their treaty-reserved right to whale,” said Frank.
“This waiver process is painfully convoluted and time-consuming. At best, we’ll have a waiver by 2010, but we’re going to persevere,” said McCarty. “We are a law-abiding people and we will not tolerate lawless conduct by any of our members. This incident should not be used to defame the governing body of a treaty tribe.”