The Northwest Coastal tribe I have chosen to focus on is the Makah tribe. During the summer I drove through the Makah reservation and on to Cape Flattery. I was amazed at the tranquility of the area and the beautiful of the waters. It had a special, almost magical peace to it, so I decided to learn a little more about the tribe and area as a whole. They live on the northwest tip of the olympia peninsula. I have chosen this topic because last summer I was able to drive through their lands and see Cape Flattery. I was amazed at the site and have wondered since then about the people who have lived there for generations. I would like to give some quick info about the Makah Tribe and what they are all about.
Although the Makah tribe now settles on 27,000 acres at the tip of the Washington state peninsula, their territory used to span far greater than that. When the Treaty of Neah Bay was signed in 1855, the natives had to give up most of their land but still insisted on keeping important fishing and whaling grounds no matter what. Today there are far less people living on this land than there used to be, and even though the land contains modern housing, schools, and a health services clinic, they are still fairly isolated.
In historic times the Makah people lived in five different villages that had people living in them at all times. There were also temporary villages in areas that were created to both take advantage of and avoid the weather. People would move around within these areas to take advantage of different hunting seasons or to escape harsh weather. On the peninsula it rains almost 200 days out of the year, and harsh winds are not uncommon.
Living by the ocean, the Makah people have always taken full advantage of the resources of the water. The land, sea, and rivers in the Makah territory provided habitat for a wide variety of fish, birds, and water and land mammals. “Particularly important to the Makah were the halibut banks off Cape Flattery and the fur sealing grounds off Cape Alava.”(Handbook of North American Indians)
The water surrounding their territory not only provided them with resources but was also very culturally significant. Two of the most culturally significant events the water provides the Makah people are whaling and the canoe trip, both events that are still carried out today. Both events take a long time to prepare for both psychically and spiritually.
According to the Makah Nations website whaling is a gift from the sea, and whales themselves are central to their culture. Although whaling is an enormous effort the tribe can benefit from it greatly. “Makah whaling tradition provides oil, meat, bone, sinew and gut for storage containers: useful products, though gained at a high cost in time and goods.” (Makah.com) The process itself begins a long time before the men set out in their canoe. The men who will participate in whaling spend a long time praying, fasting, and bathing ceremonially beforehand. A small group of about 8 people will go out just before daybreak and can be out on the water for many nights. The whale can sometimes take them far out into the waters so they cannot seethe land anymore. This has never been a problem for the Makah people who are extremely talented at being able to navigate in the open ocean. The last time the Makah tribe successfully hunted a whale was May 17, 1999. They hadn’t preformed this hunt for 70 years until this date.
The Makah also make a yearly canoe trip that is very important to them. They take this opportunity to travel down the coast visiting with different tribes. The are always welcomed and their arrival usually sparks up a lot of celebration. Their final destination will be preplanned and contain a large feast and many festivities. (Makah.com)
Not only are they skilled canoe makers but the Makah people are also talented wood carvers and artists. Many native people make their living as artists. They create wooden masterpieces that span anywhere from a pair of earring to a massive canoe.
Although the Makah Tribe is rich in old and new culture, it still struggles with modern issues. Their population has dropped to a year 1214, with only 1079 actually living on the reservation. With it being such a remote area unemployment hovers around 51% with a slight increase in the summer. “Almost 49% of the reservation households have incomes classified below the federal poverty level, and 59% of the housing units are considered to be substandard”(lib.washington.edu) However, with the reinstatement of the whale hunt the Makah people have taken big steps to enforcing their own culture despite government problems. With this momentum the Makah can restore the flourish to their sea side community.
This is only a small taste of the intricate culture that is the Makah people. I hope through out this quarter I will learn new things every day.
Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian, Willan C. Sturtevant, Washington, 1990
The University of Washington Online Library Archives, https://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/renker.html, Ann M. Renker
The Makah Tribe Official Website, http://ww.makah.com,