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Makah

MAKAH

MAKAH is a Native American tribe that resides at the extreme northwestern corner of Washington State, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Together with the Nuu-chah-nulth bands of Vancouver Island, Canada, the Makah form the Nootkan subgroup of Northwest Coast Native cultures. The first recorded European contact was in 1790 with the Spanish ship Princesa Real. The 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay established the reservation while preserving hunting and fishing rights in "usual and accustomed" areas. The aboriginal population of perhaps 2,000 was reduced to 654 by 1861, largely through smallpox epidemics. Tribal enrollment at the beginning of the twenty-first century was approximately 2,300, and 70 percent of tribal members lived on the 44-square-mile reservation, mostly at the settlement of Neah Bay.

Prior to European colonization, Makahs lived in five autonomous villages, Diah't (now Neah Bay), Ba'adah, Wa'atch, Tsooyes, and Ozette. A strong reliance on halibut and marine mammals (whales and seals) distinguished Makahs from the salmon-oriented tribes of Washington State. Accumulation of material wealth and private property ownership were important factors in Makah society, with hierarchies of rank and class characterizing social relationships. Potlatch ceremonies reinforced these social positions and continue into the twenty-first century.

Archaeological excavations at Ozette in the 1970s yielded the most comprehensive collection of Indian artifacts on the Northwest Coast, sparking a cultural revival and renewed pride in tribal identity. Artifacts are displayed at the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay, which also teaches Qwiqwidichchuk (the Makah language) and traditional arts.

In 1999 the tribe drew international attention for its resumption of subsistence whale hunting. The Treaty of Neah Bay is the only U.S.–Indian treaty that specifically mentions whaling rights, a reflection of the importance of whaling in local culture. Tribal whaling ended in the 1920s, after non-Indian commercial hunters decimated whale populations. The California gray whale was removed from the endangered species list in 1994, and the tribe began controversial preparations to resume hunting this species. In 1997 the International Whaling Commission approved a subsistence quota that included up to five gray whales per year for the Makah. On 17 May 1999, amid protests, media attention, and Coast Guard protection, a single whale was taken using a combination of ancient and modern technology. Whale meat and blubber


were consumed by Makah families for the first time in decades, and indigenous representatives from around the world attended a ceremonial potlatch feast. The tribe at that time made clear its intention to continue subsistence hunting as long as the whale population can support a sustainable harvest.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Colson, Elizabeth. The Makah Indians: A Study of an Indian Tribe in Modern American Society. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1953.

Sullivan, Robert. A Whale Hunt. New York: Scribner, 2000.

Swan, James Gilchrist. "The Indians of Cape Flattery, at the Entrance to the Strait of Fuca, Washington Territory." Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge Vol. 16, article 8. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1870.

JenniferSepez

See alsoOzette ; Washington, State of ; Whaling .

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Makah

Makah (mäkô´), Native North Americans who in the early 19th cent. inhabited Cape Flattery, NW Wash. According to Lewis and Clark they then numbered some 2,000. The Makah are the southernmost of the Wakashan branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock, being the only member of the Wakashan group within the United States (see Native American languages). Makah culture was fundamentally that of the Pacific Northwest Coast area. In 1855 they ceded all their lands to the United States except a small area on Cape Flattery that was set aside as a reservation. Today most of the 1,600 Makah in the United States live on the Makah Reservation; their main tribal income is from forestry.

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Makah

Makah

Name

Makah (pronounced muh-KAW or Mah-KAH ). The Makah people called themselves Qwiqwidicciat or Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx (pronounced kwee-DITCH-cha-uck ), meaning “people who live by the rocks and seagulls,” referring to their lands along the rocky coastline. The name Makah was mistakenly applied to the tribe during treaty negotiations with the U.S. government. Officials misunderstood the Salish names other tribes called them—ones which meant “cape dwellers” (they lived on Cape Flattery) or “people generous with food.” In the eighteenth century they were known as the people of Tatootche, or Tutusi (“Thundering”), one of three thunderbird brothers and a powerful chief. Makah has been spelled many ways including Ma-caw, Macau, Mak-kah, Mi-caw, and Maccaw.

Location

The Makah lived on the most northwestern point of Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwestern state of Washington. In the late 1990s the Makah Indian Reservation covered 44 acres in Clallam County, Washington, and included the village of Neah Bay.

Population

In the late 1700s there were an estimated two thousand Makah. In 1834 they numbered about 550. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 1,661 people identified themselves as Makah. According to the 2000 census, 1,704 Makah lived in the United States, and 2,147 people claimed some Makah heritage.

Language family

Wakashan.

Origins and group affiliations

The Makah have lived on the northwestern Pacific Coast for centuries. Long before the coming of Europeans, they lived near and traded with the Nootkah and Nitinaht tribes, to whom they were sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile. They also traded with the Clallam, but had conflicts with them as well as with the Quileute.

According to tribal legend, the Makah people were conceived when the stars mated with animals. Their lush forest home along the Pacific Northwest coastline is an area battered by storms, soaked with rains, and dwarfed by rugged mountains to the east. The Makah depended on the sea for their livelihood and were expert hunters of whales and seals. They survived the invasion of their homeland by white settlers and at the end of the twentieth century were the only Native American tribe with the legal right to hunt whales. The treaty guaranteeing this right has been the subject of controversy in recent years.

History

European arrival

Before the Makah had contact with Europeans, the people lived in five villages: Bahaada (Baada, Biheda), Deah (Dia; present-day Neah Bay), Waatch (Wyacht, Wayatch), Sooes (Tsuess, Tsoo-yess), and Ozette (an excavation site). The villages were linked by similar cultures and languages and through marriages.

The first recorded European contact with the Makah was made by John Meares (c. 1756–1809), a British sea captain who anchored off the coast of the Makah-occupied Tatoosh Island in the spring of 1788 on a fur trading journey. Two years later Spaniards sailed into Neah Bay. They established a fort there in 1792, but for unknown reasons abandoned the venture after only four months.

Important Dates

1788: In the first recorded contact between the Makah and Europeans, John Meares moors his ship off the coast of Tatoosh Island.

1792: The Spanish establish a fort at Neah Bay, but abandon it after only four months.

1855: The Makah are forced to sign the Treaty of Neah Bay, turning all their land over to the U.S. government.

1936: The Makah Tribe writes its constitution.

1970: Tidal erosion uncovers the ancient whaling village at Ozette. The find promotes a renewed interest among the Makah in traditional language and culture.

1997: The Makah regain their right to kill up to five gray whales a year for food and ceremonial uses.

1979: Makah Cultural and Research Center opens to house Neah Bay artifacts.

1999: The tribe successfully hunts a gray whale.

2004: Makah Utility Authority is formed to oversee a wind-generated power plant with its partner, Cielo Wind Power.

Gifted traders

The Makah were already experienced dealmakers when they began trading with Europeans in the early 1800s. Their frequent trading with Europeans sharpened their skills and introduced them to non-Native goods.

Europeans bought sea otter and beaver pelts from the Makah to make hats and coats for the fashion-conscious people of northern Europe. Other tribes, who also became wealthy from this trade, purchased whale oil from the Makah. As the number of white settlers grew in the first half of the nineteenth century, the tribe concentrated on producing oil from whale, seal, candlefish, and dogfish to be used as machine oil in European and American factories. They took their trade items to Fort Nisqually in Washington and Fort Langley in British Columbia, Canada, trading centers built by the U.S. government. In 1852 alone, the Makah sold 20,000 gallons (75,798 liters) of fish and whale oil for use at sawmills in Olympia, Washington; they were, in fact, the chief suppliers of machine oil for the entire Northwest Coast.

Treaty of Neah Bay

Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818–1862) was the governor of Washington territory and superintendent of Indian Affairs in the mid-1800s. He considered the Native tribes of the Northwest an “impediment to civilization,” meaning they stood in the way of white advancement. Stevens believed strongly in manifest destiny. According to this nineteenth century philosophy (way of thinking), white nations—especially the United States—were meant to dominate the entire Western Hemisphere. Beginning in 1854, Stevens attempted to establish treaties with nearly every tribe in his territory (what would become the state of Washington and some surrounding areas). In an attempt to take over as much land as possible for white settlers, he set out to abolish Native land titles, place tribes on reservations, and persuade the Native Americans to adopt the white way of life.

In the mid-1800s the Makah experienced a series of epidemics (serious outbreaks of diseases) that killed off significant numbers of the tribe. The weakened Makah were convinced to sign the Treaty of Neah Bay in 1855, giving up their land to the U.S. government. In return, Governor Stevens guaranteed them access to health care. He also promised that the U.S. government would send oil kettles and gear to make their fishing more efficient. The treaty granted them “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations,” referring to family-owned sections of ocean in their old territories.

Refusal to farm

U.S. government agents and Christian missionaries tried to turn the Makah, who were expert whalers and fishers, into farmers—on land that was completely unsuitable for agriculture. For the most part, the Makah ignored these efforts and continued to fish. They controlled supplies of fish oil and halibut fish in the region. Late in the nineteenth century the Makah used their fleet of large whaling vessels to supply oil for logging camps established by American companies in the Northwest.

Makah involvement in the large-scale hunting of fur seals began in 1860. It continued for thirty years, until the ever-increasing number of seal hunters and the growing use of firearms to kill seals led to the end of the seal trade. Even so, the Makah made sure that a 1911 treaty with the U.S. government gave them and some other tribes the right to continue catching seals by the age-old method of harpooning them from canoes. The tribe continued this form of hunting for several more decades. During the twentieth century tourism and logging activities grew, replacing fishing as the major source of income for the Makah.

Discovery of ancient village

In 1970 archaeologists (scientists who study the life and culture of ancient peoples by examining the things they left behind) made an exciting discovery—a prehistoric Makah whaling village was unearthed at Ozette. Parts of the village had been covered by a mudslide more than five centuries before, and the mud had preserved skeletons of the victims, as well as their houses and belongings, in nearly perfect condition. Ozette has been called one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in North America. Many items were found there, including sculptures, harpoons, baskets, and various household utensils. The event led to the founding of the Makah Cultural and Research Center on the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay, Washington. The center highlights the history of the tribe and helps preserve its language and culture.

Culture revived

In 1995 the Makah decided to revive the age-old custom of whale hunting. Since the 1920s the gray whale population had been endangered. By the 1990s, however, it had made a comeback. After it had been taken off the endangered list, the Makah wanted to exercise their rights. As part of the Treaty of Neah Bay, they had retained the right to catch fish, whales, and seals in traditional tribal territory. Many groups objected, but eventually the Makah received permission to take five gray whales a year.

The first whale hunt in decades ended successfully on May 17, 1999. The discovery of the ancient Ozette village and the return of whaling have paralleled the recovery of many Makah traditions, including arts, ceremonies, and language. The people are eager to revive aspects of their culture that were lost or neglected for centuries.

Religion

The Makah people believed in guardian spirits who helped individuals become successful in reaching their life goals. Shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun ), healers who could be either male or female, helped people contact their guardian spirits.

At the beginning of the twentieth century some Makah people joined the Native American church, a religion that combined elements of Christianity with traditional Native beliefs and practices.

Native American Church

The Native American church formed in Oklahoma in 1918. It brought together several groups of Native North Americans who had been practicing the peyote religion (pronounced pay-OH-tay; named for a stimulant derived from mescal buttons, which are the dried tops of a small cactus) since the 1880s. The new religion was first spread by John Wilson (c. 1840–1901), a man of mixed Delaware, Caddo (see entries), and French parentage. He claimed that under the influence of peyote, he had several visions telling him the right way for Native Americans to worship Jesus Christ. (Peyote, a nonaddictive drug, brings on altered mental states and hallucinations in people who chew or consume it in the form of green tea.) Wilson preached that those who followed the Peyote Road would be set free from their sins. This was a welcome message to Native Americans who found themselves at the mercy of the whites—confined to reservations, stripped of the right to worship their Native religions, and seeking a way to combine their traditional beliefs with Christianity.

James Mooney (1861–1921), an employee of the Smithsonian Institution (a center for the study of American culture) in Washington, D.C., became fascinated by the peyote religion. While traveling among many Native tribes in the 1890s, Mooney came to believe that the Native Americans in the United States needed to be brought together through their own religion, so he drew up the legal papers forming the Native American Church. Attracting a diverse membership from numerous tribes, the church is most active in the American Northwest and Southwest. It combines Christian and Native beliefs and features an all-night ceremony of chanting, prayer, and meditation.

Peyote is considered sacred among church members, but since 1900 attempts have been made to outlaw its use in church ceremonies. In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the possession and use of peyote by Native American church members is not protected by the First Amendment. (The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans freedom of religion, among other freedoms.) The Supreme Court’s ruling means that each state can decide whether to allow the religious use of peyote.

While the consumption of peyote has generated considerable controversy and publicity, the church’s main goal is quite simple: to promote unity among its members. The Native American Church stresses brotherly love, family ties, self-reliance, and avoidance of alcohol. From the beginning, it has fought to protect the First Amendment rights of its members.

Because the Native American church is so loosely organized, it is difficult to estimate its membership with accuracy. In 1922 the church claimed to have about 22,000 members; in 2004 it claimed more than 250,000 members.

Language

The Makah language is similar to the languages spoken by their northern neighbors, the Nootkah, Kwakiutl (see entry), and Bella Bella. With the discovery of the ancient city of Ozette, there has been a renewed interest in learning the Makah language. The Makah Cultural and Research Center is home to a program that works to preserve and teach the Makah language. As a result of such efforts, the number of Makah children who spoke their native language jumped from 33 percent in 1980 to 78 percent by 1985.

Like most Native American languages, Makah was not originally written down. It has many unique sounds that are not found in English or other languages, so a special alphabet had to be used. This alphabet, a variation of the international phonetic alphabet, was adopted in 1978. Words are written with special symbols to show how they are pronounced.

Makah Words

The Makah language belongs to the Southern Nootkan branch of the Wakashan language. It is a very distinct language and the only one in its classification in the United States. Other related languages are spoken in British Columbia, Canada. Qwiqwidicciat (the Makah name for their language) became a separate language from its closest relative, Nitinaht, about one thousand years ago.

  • ’cakwa·’ak … “one”
  • atł … “two”
  • wi· … “three”
  • bu· … “four”
  • Šu’č … “five”
  • ła·Xuk … “man”
  • xad’ak … “woman”
  • daka· … “sun”
  • ča’ak … “water”
  • ’tłiXuk … “red”
  • tupkuk … “black”
  • ’tłisuk … “white”
  • xusboxuk … “yellow”

Government

There were no Makah chiefs. The men who had the most influence in a Makah village—usually the fur seal hunters or the harpoon throwers who captured whales—were called headmen. They often displayed their wealth and power through gift-giving ceremonies called potlatches.

The Makah adopted a constitution in 1936. A tribal council governs the tribe. It consists of five persons who are elected to staggered, three-year terms; a new council head is chosen each year.

Economy

Early lifestyle

For centuries the Makah economy was based on trade and fishing. They were among the top whalers in North America until about 1860. Having gained a reputation as clever traders, they managed to control most of the money supply in the Northwest. The Makah used a type of shell called dentalium (pronounced den-TAY-lee-um; from the Latin word for “tooth”) as money. The shells were polished and strung like beads.

Traditionally the Makah hunted fur seals and whales. Each family had its own section of the ocean for fishing, and the area passed from father to son. During the nineteenth century, however, seals changed their migration patterns and almost disappeared from the tribe’s homeland. When fur seals reappeared around 1866, seal hunting resumed because sealskin was in great demand. By the 1880s white businesspeople were hiring Makah men to serve as seal hunters aboard commercial fishing boats. (Commercial boats work for profit, not for food or an owner’s personal use.) The jobs were so profitable that the Makah temporarily gave up whaling, but continued seal hunting. The seal trade lasted until 1890 when seal hunting was prohibited because the supply had been so severely depleted. Many Makah then returned to whale hunting.

Modern economy

Commercial logging (cutting down trees for money) on Makah land began in 1926. In the 1930s the first road linked the mainland of Washington to the peninsula where the reservation is located. (Previously the peninsula could only be reached by boat.) The Makah tourist industry developed as more and more people discovered the beauty of the area and set out to learn about Native life. Since then, the building of a breakwater (to shelter the harbor from crashing waves) has attracted individual sailing boats and tourist boats.

Commercial fishing became important to the Makah economy later in the twentieth century, but overfishing and overcutting brought a decline in the fishing and logging industries in the 1990s. As a result, tourism has become increasingly important. The opening of the Neah Bay Marina, which harbors more than two hundred sailing and fishing vessels, boosted tribal income. Large and small businesses have opened at the marina and in the village to cater to tourists.

Makah Tribal Bingo provides a considerable amount of money and jobs, but the community has rejected the idea of a full-service casino. The Makah are not interested in developing a heavy economic reliance on gambling. The Cape Flattery Resort and Conference Facility features a lodge, campgrounds, a sweathouse (a steam-heated lodge used for Native American cleansing, purification, and ritual), sports facilities, and a café. Increasing numbers of tourists visit the reservation to view wildlife, marine mammals, and birds.

In 2004 the tribe completed a feasibility study (a study to determine if something is a good idea) on the use of wind-generated power. They partnered with Celio Wind Power to develop a commercial power plant and sell electricity. Grazing cattle, operating fisheries, and mining (of sand, gravel, and rock) round out the tribe’s economic base. Unemployment is still high on the reservation in the mid-2000s, however, because many of the jobs are seasonal.

Daily life

Families

The Makah family consisted of a father, mother, children, and close relatives who lived together in a large house. The bonds between grandparents and grandchildren were especially strong. Aunts and uncles were like second parents, and in-laws were also close. Members of Makah families were ranked in the society according to their relationship to the headman of the village—the closer the relationship, the more important the person. Traditionally each Makah family owned a certain section of beach along Makah territory; they also had rights to any items that floated ashore on their property.

Buildings

Makah villages consisted of three to twenty flat-roofed longhouses along the beaches. Each longhouse sheltered up to twenty families. The buildings had dirt floors and frames made of planks held in place by pegs. Roofs were constructed with flat wooden planks that could be shifted to let in air or removed and transported if the villagers moved to follow a spring salmon run. Removable woven mats served as partitions to separate each family’s living area. During the winter months the partitions were taken down to provide a common place for dancing, feasting, and gambling. Although there was a central cooking fire, each family had its own smaller fire.

Clothing and adornment

Because of the mild climate, Makah men (and sometimes women) went naked or wore very little clothing year-round. The clothing they did wear consisted of woven capes, skirts made of cedar bark (soaked and pounded soft), cattail fluff, and woven down feathers. Rain gear included cone-shaped hats and bearskin robes. The Makah rarely wore shoes, but in cool weather they sometimes donned moccasins.

Food

The centerpiece of the Makah diet was sea mammals, especially whales. Both men and women participated in the butchering of whales, and they used every part of the whale for some purpose: tendons, for instance, were braided and dried for use as rope, and oil was extracted from the whale’s blubber. The meat and skin were eaten immediately; the choicest piece of blubber went to the chief harpooner.

Men also fished for salmon and halibut and hunted land mammals and birds. Various fish, shrimp, small octopuses, worms, snails, seagull eggs, and crabs added variety to the diet. The activities of women centered on gathering shellfish, plants, roots, and berries and processing the fish and animals the men brought from the hunt. Smoked and dried meats were saved for winter or used for trade. A favorite food among the Makah was a root called camas, which could only be obtained by trading with tribes from the north who were able to grow or harvest it.

Makah Broiled Salmon

Salmon was one of the most important foods in the Makah diet. Women dried it for winter use, but it was also broiled over the fire and eaten fresh. Although this could also be done over a fire, the recipe calls for broiling in a conventional oven.

  • 1 (6-lb) salmon
  • 2 lemons
  • butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Filet a six-pound salmon, rinse well, cut in half and place on a baking pan. Slice two lemons and squirt over salmon. Allow to stand for one hour. Salt and pepper if you like. After one hour, place under broiler for two minutes, then add a slice of butter for each piece of salmon and continue cooking for six minutes, or until done.

Serves 6.

“Makah Broiled Salmon.” Native American Recipes, (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Education

From their early years Makah boys learned fishing techniques and routes to their family’s fishing territory. Girls learned about food gathering and preservation from adult females of the village.

After the move to the reservation, representatives of the federal government, called Indian agents, oversaw schools in Neah Bay. They showed little respect for Makah language and culture and did their best to make the children assimilate, or take on the white way of life. Often the government-run schools were boarding schools, and students were separated from their families for much of the year. Many students missed their relatives and their traditional lifestyles; some tried to run away, but discovered punishments could be severe.

In 1932 the state of Washington built a public elementary and high school on the reservation. In the early twenty-first century most students attend Neah Bay Public Schools. To encourage students to speak their language, the tribe’s education department runs the Makah Language Program at the cultural center. Tribal elders assist by recording oral histories, preparing dictionary entries, and developing materials for the public schools to use.

When the Makah Cultural and Research Center opened on the Makah Reservation (see “History”), many young Makah found work there with teams who were studying the Ozette excavation site. They learned about their culture through formal training in anthropology (the study of human societies and cultures).

Boarding School Runaways

In addition to teaching students trades, the main goal of boarding schools was to assimilate Native Americans (make them more like whites). Students were forbidden to use their Native language or to practice their religion. Some students rebelled by running away. When they were caught, runaways received harsh punishments to discourage other students from following their example. Helma Ward (1918–2002), a former Makah student, recalls an incident from her years at one of these boarding school.

Two of our girls ran away … but they got caught. They tied their legs up, tied their hands behind their backs, put them in the middle of the hallway so that if they fell, fell asleep or something, the matron would hear them and she’d get out there and whip them and make them stand up again.

Marr, Carolyn J. “Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest” University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Healing practices

The Makah depended mostly on shaman to deal with illnesses. Shaman held curing ceremonies to teach the people how to use plants for healing. In the 1990s Makah health care was provided at a clinic run by the tribe and Indian Health Services. The tribe also operates substance abuse clinics, a mental health program, and many health-related classes.

Arts

The Makah Cultural and Research Center

The Makah Cultural and Research Center, which was founded in 1979, depicts the life of the Makah people prior to European contact. It features three-hundred- to five-hundred-year-old articles that were uncovered from the Makah village of Ozette. (See “History.”) On display are full-scale replicas of cedar-log longhouses, as well as exhibits on whaling, sealing, and constructing canoes. The museum displays only about 1 percent of the fifty-five thousand articles recovered from the Ozette site. Makah artists and craftspeople have helped revive Makah traditions and are teaching other members to make longhouses, canoes, totems, masks, baskets, clothing, and jewelry.

Oral literature

As is true with many other tribes, storytellers passed on the wisdom of the Makah tribe from one generation to the next. One popular Makah tale describes how the Great Thunderbird, helped by the Wolf Serpent, brought the Makah people their first whale. The Wolf Serpent, who had the head of a wolf and the body of a serpent, braced himself around the legs of the Great Thunderbird. When the bird swooped down on the whale, the Wolf Serpent wrapped itself around the whale’s head and tail and helped the Great Thunderbird lift it out of the sea. They then took the whale and presented it to the Makah people, who made use of the sea mammal for food and supplies.

When the Animals and Birds Were Created

In this Makah tale the world is created by two brothers. The first part of the story (recorded here) tells why birds have certain characteristics.

The Indians who live on the farthest point of the northwest corner of Washington State used to tell stories, not about one Changer, but about the Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things. So did their close relatives, who lived on Vancouver Island, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

When the world was very young, there were no people on the earth. There were no birds or animals, either. There was nothing but grass and sand and creatures that were neither animals nor people but had some of the traits of people and some of the traits of animals.

Then the two brothers of the Sun and the Moon came to the earth. Their names were Ho-ho-e-ap-bess, which means “The Two-Men-Who- Changed-Things.” They came to make the earth ready for a new race of people, the Indians. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things called all the creatures to them. Some they changed to animals and birds. Some they changed to trees and smaller plants.

Among them was a bad thief. He was always stealing food from creatures who were fishermen and hunters. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed him into Seal. They shortened his arms and tied his legs so that only his feet could move. Then they threw Seal into the Ocean and said to him, “Now you will have to catch your own fish if you are to have anything to eat.”

One of the creatures was a great fisherman. He was always on the rocks or was wading with his long fishing spear. He kept it ready to thrust into some fish. He always wore a little cape, round and white over his shoulders. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed him into Great Blue Heron. The cape became the white feathers around the neck of Great Blue Heron. The long fishing spear became his sharp pointed bill.

Glenn, Welker. “When the Animals and Birds Were Created.” Indigenous Peoples’ Literature. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Customs

Social classes

Makah society had a class system. People in the middle class could gain power by marrying into the upper classes.

Festivals and ceremonies

The Makah practiced the Wolf Ritual, a four-day winter healing ceremony. Its purpose was to welcome members into the secret Klukwalle society. Participants in the Wolf Ritual wore masks or headdresses made of thin boards.

The Doctoring Ritual was another four-day winter ceremony. It was believed to cure participants of illnesses. The ceremony was performed by a shaman, who wore yellow cedar bark robes with neck and head rings of shredded cedar bark.

In modern times Makah Days are held on the reservation each August to honor the Makah heritage. They begin with the crowning of a Makah princess, followed by nighttime fireworks and a community talent show. There are three days of salmon bakes, canoe races, and traditional dancing by children and adults.

War and hunting practices

Slaves were important to the Makah; their war parties captured them from enemies such as the Quileute and Klallam. The wealthy owned the greatest number of slaves. Children were warned not to wander far away from camp for fear they might be taken as slaves by other tribes.

The Makah ranked among the foremost whalers in North America. Whale hunting was extremely dangerous, and preparations for a hunt went on throughout the year. To condition themselves, whale hunters bathed in cold streams or lakes when the moon was full. To toughen their skin, they rubbed their bodies with hemlock twigs until they bled. At certain times they fasted and stayed away from women. They practiced diving underwater, holding their breath to increase their lung capacity, and they mimicked the whales’ graceful swimming style. When a whale appeared in a dream to the head of the whaling group, it was time for the hunt.

Whale hunters used cedar log canoes manned by a crew of eight, who sometimes took their canoes as far as 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore to hunt for whales. Excellent canoeing skills were needed, for whales could swim under a dugout canoe and flip or smash it with their enormous tails.

The chief whalers were known for having great spiritual powers. They stood in the front of the canoe and sang special songs to lure a whale, promising it many gifts if it let itself be killed, such as in this Makah entreaty, as quoted in Robert Sullivan’s Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought It Could : “Whale, I have given you what you wish to get—my good harpoon. Please hold it with your strong hands.… Whale, tow me to the beach of my village, for when you come ashore there, young men will cover your great body with blue-bill duck feathers and the down of the great eagle.” Whaling songs were very valuable and were passed down through families. It was considered a crime for a whaler to “steal” another’s song.

Whale hunters used harpoons tipped with sharp seashells. Seal bladders—which served as excellent flotation devices—were attached to the harpoons with whale sinew rope; after the harpoon entered the whale’s flesh, the floats prevented the whale from diving while it was alive or sinking after it had died. Hunters then guided the whale toward the shore to complete the kill.

Puberty

Adolescent boys went to remote places in the forest on vision quests to find their spiritual protectors. They fasted and entered a trancelike state in which their spirits were revealed to them. Girls acquired their guardian spirits by going alone to a special place when they menstruated and performing certain rites while wearing distinctive shell ornaments on their braids.

Current tribal issues

A controversy erupted in 1995 when the Makah, who had not hunted whales since 1926, informed federal officials that they wanted to kill up to five gray whales a year for food and ceremonial use. The proposal met with disapproval from animal rights activists, who claimed that a sanctioned whale hunt would hamper their efforts to ban whale hunting worldwide and would push the whales closer to extinction.

Tribal members themselves are not in agreement on this issue. Several Makah elders took out a half-page ad in a local newspaper, expressing their opposition to the plan. Still, plans went forward, and the first whaling expedition occurred in spring 1999. Billy Frank Jr. (1931–), chairperson of the Northwest Fisheries Commission, tried to encourage the community at large to support the tribe’s return to their traditions:

Whoever you are, you should join the Makah Tribe in celebrating its harvest of a gray whale. You should celebrate this return of a sacred practice to some of the most culturally connected people in the world. You should celebrate the return of justice and vitality to a tribe that has been repressed over this past century, and celebrate the recovery of gray whale populations to the historic levels needed to sustain harvest. You should understand that life begets life, and that the spirit of the whale lives on in the Makah people. It lives in the rejoicing of the elders, the strength of the warriors and the rekindled excitement of the children. It lives on because that is the way the Creator intended it to be.

Notable people

Sandra Osawa (1942–) is a successful television producer and writer, focusing primarily on Native American culture and issues. In 1980 she received an Emmy nomination for “I Know Who I Am,” a television program on Native American cultural affairs. The Native American Series was the first television series ever to be produced, written, and acted exclusively by Native Americans.

Erikson, Patricia Pierce. Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural and Research Center. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Goodman, Linda J. Singing the Songs of My Ancestors: The Life and Music of Helma Swan, Makah Elder. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.

Haig-Brown, Roderick. The Whale People. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2003.

McMillan, Alan D. Since the Time of the Transformers: The Ancient Heritage of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Ditidaht, and Makah. Vancouver: University Of British Columbia Press, 2000.

Nelson, Sharlene, and Ted W. Nelson. The Makah. New York: Franklin Watts, 2003.

Sullivan, Robert. A Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought It Could. New York: Scribner, 2002.

Tweedie, Ann M. Drawing Back Culture: The Makah Struggle for Repatriation. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

Frank, Billy Jr. “Everyone Should Celebrate the Makah Whale Hunt,” June 11, 1999. Hartford Web Publishing. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

The Makah Nation on Washington’ Olympic Peninsula. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Makah.com. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Moss, Madonna L. “Makah,” May 28, 1999. Register-Guard. Reproduced by University of Oregon. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC). (accessed on September 5, 2007).

“Our Language.” Makah.com. (accessed on September 5, 2007).

Edward D. Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseño), Native American Studies Program, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

Laurie Edwards

Daniel Boxberger, Department of Anthropology, Western Washington University

Laurie Edwards

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