Dateline – Tacoma

Posted by Ken Campbell July 1, 2008 0 Comment 450 views

Five Makah whalers who went a’whaling without sanction from their tribe, without a federal permit, and without regard for the consequences their actions would have, were sentenced today in federal court in Tacoma.

See, back in September of 2007, the Fab Five (Wayne Johnson, Andy Noel, Frankie Gonzales, Theron Parker and William Secor), took it in their heads to return to their ancient roots by killing a whale. Frustration over what they, and many others in the tribe, saw as stalling by the feds over issuing another hunt permit drove them to take matters into their own hands. That’s one side of the story, anyway. It wouldn’t be as big a deal as all that, surely. They wouldn’t need a canoe; they had a pair of speedboats. They’d take a harpoon, but it would not be a real critical piec e of gear, not when they had a high-power rifle or two and some steady trigger fingers.

It’s hard not to see it as a artless, bumbling saga of death and silliness on the high seas. About a mile off the coast of Cape Flattery, according to witnesses in other boats, the intrepid hunters blasted away at a gray whale with their rifle, firing 21 separate shots, several of them striking home. The whale was in agony for the 10 hours it took for it to die, at which point it sank to the bottom of the sea and the hunters were turned over to tribal police by the Coast Guard.

It’s hard to see these men as heroes, at least it is for me. I happen to believe that native rights are important and worth defending and I have always been treated well by the Makah on every visit I have made to their home. Cape Flattery is one of my most valued places, a sacred spot, in some sense. Whether it was a worthy political statement or not, to go out that day after leviathan, I cannot say. But I will say that the way in which it was handled by the tribe in general, and the five protagonists in particular, was ham-fisted buffoonery reminiscent of the Keystone Kops (if the Kops had been more violent and less intellectually gifted.)

Two of the whalers received jail time for the hunt: Johnson got five months and Noel was sentenced to three months. The other three men got away with two years of probation and between 100 and 150 hours of community service.

The whale is still dead.

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