U.S. withdraws proposal for Indian whale hunt
June 27, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EDT
From CNN correspondent Rusty Dornin
SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- The United States has withdrawn backing of a controversial proposal to allow an American Indian tribe to hunt five gray whales under an exemption in the International Whaling Commission's commercial whaling ban.
The proposal was fought by other countries as well as some members of the tribe.
The United States had submitted the request to the IWC's annual meeting in Aberdeen, Scotland, but a spokesman said Thursday it will be deferred until next year to give the Makah time to respond to reservations expressed by delegates.
The IWC allows aboriginal groups with a long tradition of whaling to continue their hunts as long as they use the whales only for their own consumption. An allowance has already been given to some Eskimos.
For centuries the Makah Indians hunted gray whales off the coast of Washington, using them for survival and ceremony. They stopped whaling in 1926 when gray whales came close to extinction. The tribe contends that now that the gray whale population has recovered to around 23,000, it would be safe to resume the hunt.
Some of the Makahs claim a U.S. treaty guarantees their whaling rights.
A question of culture
Makah tribal member Jerry Lucas says killing five whales a year could help revive their culture.
"This might be an opportunity to turn kids around (and back toward their Makah culture)," he said.
But environmentalists and animal rights groups worry that the request could start a whale-hunting frenzy.
Already, native tribes in Canada say they will resume whaling if the Makahs are allowed to hunt.
"Other people will follow in their footsteps, and what we'll have is essentially a commercial slaughter by another name -- cultural whaling," said Will Anderson of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.(1.2M QuickTime movie)
A request by the Japanese to hunt 50 Minke whales a year under the aboriginal exemption was turned down Thursday by the IWC.
"If they say yes to America and not to Japan, that is (a) double standard," said Ichiro Nomura of the Japanese Whaling Commission.
The issue has placed the United States in a difficult position because it is one of the most fervent advocates of the whaling moratorium. The U.S. delegation voted Thursday against the Japanese request.
But Washington is committed to supporting the rights of tribal groups and took pains to stress that it had not dropped the request altogether.
"The United States government continues to support Indian treaty rights and the preservation of native cultures," James Baker, leader of the U.S. delegation at the IWC meeting, said in a statement.
Division within the Makah tribe
The hunt, which once unified this tribe, now pits member against member. Seven tribal elders traveled to Aberdeen to testify against killing the whales.
"I can't see killing a whale for subsistence when we haven't eaten it for decades. We don't know how to cut it, how to cook it," said Alberta Thompson, a Makah tribe member.
Some of the younger Makahs agree that the practice should remain a part of their cultural history only.
"I'm against it, really. I mean I don't think it's going to bring back any tradition," said a young tribe member.
The tribal council has been accused of soliciting advice from Japanese whalers -- an accusation members deny.
"We don't allow people to come and talk to us about buying or selling whale. It's not an acceptable thing," Lucas said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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