In his American Indian Law Journal article Of Whaling, Judicial Fiats, Treaties and Indians: The Makah Saga Continues, Jeremy Stevens recounts the development of federal Indian law in the United States, and its intersection with conservation regulatory schemes by both the federal and state governments. Of particular focus, is the evolution of treaty-reserved whaling by the Makah Tribe of Washington state.
As Stevens writes, “Whereas once the Makah were warriors, mastering the storms and calms and collecting for their kin the giants of the deep, now the Makah have only their bit of earth, the rain, and a whisper, a hope and a dream.” Denied by federal courts their practice of whaling, once proud and active Makah youth have turned to drugs and alcohol.
As Stevens notes, the absence of whaling presents devastating consequences on Makah health and their collective psyche. Prohibited from hunting whales in exercise of its treaty-reserved right, Makah tribal sovereignty and cultural distinction — linked with whaling as a critical part of its spiritual profile — live under the stress of a concerted effort to derail a religious activity and an important aspect of tribal identity.