After 20 years, Washington tribe hopes to hunt whales again
Permission to hunt
Two decades later, he and the Makah Tribe _ the only American Indians with a treaty right to hunt whales _ are still waiting for government permission to hunt again as their people historically did. The tribe, in the remote northwest corner of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, hopes to use the whales for food and to make handicrafts, artwork and tools they can sell.
Animal rights activists not happy
``It shouldn't have taken 20 years to be where we're at now,'' said DePoe, a tribal council member. ``People ask how it makes me feel. I want to ask, `How does it make you feel that this is the process we're having to go through to exercise a right that's already been agreed upon?' It's a treaty right. It's settled law.''
Who is Makah tribe?
By 1994, gray whales in the eastern Pacific Ocean had rebounded and they were removed from the endangered species list. Seeing an opportunity to reclaim its heritage, the tribe announced plans to hunt again.
The Makah trained for months in the ancient ways of whaling and received the blessing of federal officials and the International Whaling Commission. They took to the water in 1998 but didn't succeed until the next year, when they harpooned a gray whale from a hand-carved cedar canoe. A tribal member in a motorized support boat killed it with a high-powered rifle to minimize its suffering.
Tried to get a waiver
After animal rights groups sued, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned federal approval of the tribe's whaling plans. The court found that the tribe needed to obtain a waiver under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Eleven Alaska Native communities in the Arctic have such a waiver for subsistence hunts, allowing them to kill bowhead whales _ even though bowheads are listed as endangered.
The Makah tribe applied for a waiver in 2005. The process repeatedly stalled as new scientific information about the whales and the health of their population was uncovered.
The rogue hunt in 2007
NOAA Fisheries has proposed regulations allowing the tribe to harvest 20 whales over a decade, with limits on the timing of the hunts to minimize the chance of killing endangered Western Pacific gray whales.
The population of Eastern Pacific gray whales, which number about 27,000, is strong, despite a recent die-off that has resulted in hundreds washing up on West Coast beaches, federal scientists say.
The hearing that began Thursday will focus on highly technical arguments about whether the tribe meets the requirements for a waiver.