FROM THE ARCHIVE

Bush administration pledges whaling support

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MONDAY, JUNE 10, 2002

One tribe's whale hunt remains intact thanks to a federal appeals court while another one affecting Alaska Natives languishes amid an international power play.

Without comment, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected an attempt to keep the Makah Nation of Washington from its traditional gray whale hunt. Animal rights activists sought to bar any action while their lawsuit challenging an 1855 treaty traveled through the court system.

But like U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess, the appeals court refused to grant the request. Burgess early last month had put a temporary halt on the hunt and later lifted it after determining the tribe could be harmed.

Describing objections raised by the activists, Burgess wrote on May 17, "these concerns are outweighed by the Makah Tribe's rights under the Treaty of Neah Bay."

With all obstacles cleared, whaling families can now take to the waters of Neah Bay in hopes of repeating the successes of a 1999 hunt, the first in over 70 years and the only one to have landed a once-endangered animal since the tradition was resumed to international furor.

Although there are still foes, that opposition has died down considerably. In its place recently rose an attack on Alaska Native subsistence hunting launched by the Japanese government.

Japan convinced the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at its meeting last month in Japan to reject a quota for bowhead hunting by Inupiat Eskimos in Alaska. Accusing the United States of hypocrisy -- the State Department opposes Japan's commercial whaling and has condemned a "scientific" hunt -- the Native request was voted down twice, failing by just a single vote on one occasion.

The Bush administration continues to support the Native hunt and lashed out against the vote. Since then, the State, Commerce and Interior departments have moved to ask the IWC to reconsider.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb offered his assistance and last week wrote a letter to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. "I can assure you that the Department of the Interior will continue to advocate forcefully for the continued exercise of aboriginal subsistence hunts," McCaleb told executive director Maggie Ahmaogak.

McCaleb also thanked the Eskimo commission for its help on securing the Makah Tribe's rights. The IWC granted a five-year quota of 20 gray whales.

Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling said a group of BIA directors and staff are assisting the inter-agency push, which McCaleb termed "a diplomatic effort to put pressure on Japan." BIA representatives from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the Office of American Indian Trust and the Office of Trust Responsibilities are involved, Darling said.

Ed. Note: George Ahmaogak was incorrectly identified as the director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. He is a whaling captain from Barrow and the mayor of the North Slope Borough. McCaleb's letter was addressed to Magggie Ahmaogak, the executive director.

Relevant Links:
The Makah Nation - http://www.makah.com

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