International Day of Indigenous People
||49 Practical Activities and Methods for Human
Rights Education > Makah whaling
"Dress it up how you like - whaling
is murder and murder is wrong"
General human rights
|| Level 4
|| 150 minutes
||This activity involves small group work, role-play, discussion
and consensus building about the issues of:
- The sustainable use of marine resources
- The rights of indigenous peoples to their culture and
- The right to take part in cultural life
- Peoples' right to freely dispose of their natural wealth
- The right to development and utilisation of natural
- To explore the conflicts between the right to development
- cultural life and protection of the environment
- To develop intercultural skills and reflect on prejudice
- To develop attitudes of open-mindedness to cultural
- Pens and paper for the groups to make their own notes
- Read through all the handouts to familiarise yourself
with the information on the issues. You will then be able
to act as a resource person if needed.
- Make copies of the role cards for each group. Each
participant should have their own role card.
The activity is divided into two parts: part 1 (30 minutes) is
an introduction to the activity and the environmental and cultural
issues involved, and part 2 (90 minutes) is a simulated meeting
to discuss the Makah tribe's application to the International
Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume whaling. Make sure you leave
time after the activity for discussion, debriefing and evaluation.
Part 1. Introduction to the environmental and cultural issues
Explain that this activity is about environmental and cultural
rights. It centres on a request by the Makah nation to the IWC
to resume whaling and the opposition to this from conservationists
- Tell the group about the Makah. (see handouts)
- Now introduce the issues addressed in this activity. Ask
people to indicate their response to the following questions
by standing "high or low". (For how to use this technique,
see page 62). Read out the following statements one at a time:
"People's customs should be respected so long as they do
not abuse human rights."
"We should respect people's right to be free to choose
what they eat; to be vegans, vegetarians or to eat meat."
"The food we eat should be produced using environmentally
"Animal husbandry should not include cruel methods such
as intensive rearing or cruel ways of slaughtering. "
"Cultural traditions are very important for people and
should be respected."
"Whales should not be hunted, even for cultural purposes."
Part 2. A simulated meeting to discuss the Makah tribe's application
to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume whaling.
- Remind the group that the Makah tribe has applied to the
International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume whaling and
that several environmental groups oppose this. This activity
is a simulated meeting of an imaginary organisation called Crest
(Culture, Rights, Environment, Sustainability and Talk). Crest
is an independent organisation that works to bring a human rights
perspective to environmental issues. They are committed to promoting
understanding through dialogue.
The simulation is a Crest meeting between four groups:
a, The Makah tribe who wish to present their case for restarting
b, High North Alliance, an umbrella organisation representing
whalers and sealers. The HNA is committed to working for the
future of coastal cultures and the sustainable use of marine
mammal resources. The HNA supports the Makah.
c, Sea Shepherd, an organisation that investigates and documents
violations of international laws, regulations and treaties protecting
marine wildlife species. They oppose the Makah's request.
d, Greenpeace, environmental activists who oppose whaling .
- Crest's role is to mediate between the groups. The discussions
will focus on four questions:
- Should whaling be allowed?
- Is there a special case for whaling as part of
- If whaling is to be carried out, at what level
is it to be carried out?
- What sort of management regimes are needed?
- Ask for two volunteers to represent Crest and divide the rest
into four small, equal groups. Hand out the role cards. The
groups have 30 minutes to discuss the information and to prepare
to defend their positions on the Makah's request.
- When the groups are prepared, call them into plenary. Ask
the pair representing Crest to organise the simulated meeting,
which should last about 60 minutes. The purpose of the meeting
is to share information and discuss the issues, and to come
to an agreement on the four questions.
- Crest opens the meeting with a short statement about the
human rights and environmental frame of the discussions. The
Makah tribe follow by stating their case. Then the discussion
- At the end of the discussion move on to the debriefing and
Debriefing and evaluation
Ask the groups to reflect on the process of the discussion and
whether it was possible to come to a consensus.
- Was it difficult to take the different roles?
- What was the most interesting thing people learnt?
- What made the best arguments? Appeals to the emotions or
rational, logical arguments?
- How hard was it to see the other side of the argument? How
hard was it to accept it?
- In real life, how hard is it to accept other people's cultural
practices that participants find either rude, incomprehensible
- At what point does the cultural clash become discrimination?
- How difficult is it to be open-minded about cultural differences?
- Does globalisation inevitably lead to loss of culture? Is
a changed culture a lost culture?
- Should we see cultural change as a positive process in a
- Conflicting legal claims to rights are usually resolved in
the courts. Is this a fair way to
- resolve rights issues?
- Which should be prioritised, the claims of people to food
and life or environmental protection and preservation of species?
Finish the session by doing another round of "high or low"
to see if people have moved in their attitudes to the issues of
whaling. Repeat the same questions as you asked in part 1.
Tips for facilitators
The complexity of the issues addressed in
this activity means that it is best suited to a mature group with
good discussion skills. There is a lot of information to assimilate
and the text on the role cards assumes a certain level of knowledge
of human rights and environmental terminology. You may wish to
consider doing the activity over two sessions and giving the groups
time in between to read the role cards and think about the issues.
One important objective of this activity is to confront young
people with the limitations of their own cultural perspectives
and enable them to reconsider their attitudes to the sustainable
use of wildlife. Whaling is a very emotive issue for many people
and one on which they often hold very strong views. This makes
it a challenging - but also difficult - topic to work with. A
second objective is to develop consensus-building skills, which
is why the activity has been designed to be a meeting which is
mediated by an imaginary organisation, Crest (culture, rights,
environment, sustainability and TALK). Before doing the activity,
you may like to refer to the information about consensus
It may be necessary to check that participants fully understand
the meaning of some of the terms and concepts introduced on the
role cards. For example:
There are no hard and fast distinctions that enable us to unambiguously
define indigenous people. In general, it may be said that they
are the descendants of peoples who originally occupied the land
before colonisers came and before state lines were drawn. They
are always marginal to their states and they are often tribal.
The precautionary principle
The precautionary principle states that "when an activity
raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary
measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships
are not fully established scientifically". It includes taking
action in the face of uncertainty; shifting burdens of proof to
those who create risks; analysis of alternatives to potentially
harmful activities; and participatory decision-making methods.
In 1989 the UN World Commission on Environment and Development
(WCED), also called the Brundtland Report, defined sustainable
development as "development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs". "Sustainable use" is a term that
is applicable only to renewable resources: it means using the
resource at rates that are within their capacity for renewal.
There is a globally agreed principle of sustainable use of the
world's natural resources, based on scientific evidence and objective
If the group is small you can work with two groups, the Makah
and the High North Alliance on one side and Greenpeace and Sea
Shepherd on the other.
An alternative way to present this activity is as a panel debate.
Have one person to represent each of the four groups, the Makah,
the High North Alliance, Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace. Get them
to present their cases and then proceed with questions from the
floor. At the end, take a vote on each of the four questions.
In this way you get people to consider the human rights, cultural
and environmental aspects of the issue, but it will lack the element
of consensus building.
Suggestions for follow-up
Globalisation was one of the issues touched on in this activity.
If the group are interested in researching other aspects of globalisation,
they may like to do the activity "A glossary
The group has probably found out that human rights issues are
much more complex that first meets the eye! They may like to reflect
on this further through the activity, "First
impressions" in the all different all equal education
Ideas for action
Support indigenous peoples by buying their products. Many handicraft
items for sale in shops that sell "fair traded" products
are made by indigenous peoples. Go and have a look next time you
are out shopping for a present for someone.
High North Alliance web site: www.highnorth.no,
The Sea Shepherd International: www.seashepherd.com,
International Whaling Commission www.iwcoffice.org,
Conservation Makah Nation web site: http://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/
renker/contemporary.html , Greenpeace web site: www.greenpeace.org.
The Makah people (also called the Makah or Makah tribe) live on a reservation
that sits on the most north-western tip of the Olympic Peninsula
in Washington State, USA. The current reservation is approximately
27,000 acres. In July 1999 tribal census data showed that
the Makah tribe has 1214 enrolled members, although only
1079 members currently live on the reservation. The average
unemployment rate on the reservation is approximately 51%.
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.
In spite of this bleak description,
the traditions are very strong and many Makahs who graduate
from college come back to the reservation to work for the
Makah tribe, the local clinic, and the public school.
Your position on the whaling
issue is neutral. Your role is to provide background information
on the human rights and environmental legislation and to
mediate between the groups. Your job as mediators is to
ensure that the discussion is focused on the task in hand
and to clarify misconceptions and misunderstandings. You
should help the groups move away from their differences
and explore instead what they have in common in order to
come to a consensus about the following questions:
- Should whaling be allowed or not?
- Is there a special case for whaling as part of cultural
- If whaling is to be allowed, at what level is it to
be carried out?
- What sorts of management regimes are needed?
Start by welcoming everyone.
Set the framework for the discussions. Take about two minutes
to set the scene by summarising the main human rights and
environmental aspects of the issue, quoting if you wish
from the extracts below. You should also point out that
some people have moral objections to whaling.
Then ask the Makah tribe
to explain their reasons for wanting to resume whaling before
opening the general discussion. After 40 minutes' discussion,
start summing up.
information about human rights, culture and the environment
The International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states in Article 1
1. All peoples have the right
of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely
determine their political status and freely pursue their
economic, social and cultural development.
2. All peoples may, for their
own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources
without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international
economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual
benefit, and international law. In no case may a people
be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
1. The States Parties to the
present Covenant recognise the right of everyone:
(a) To take part in cultural
(b) To enjoy the benefits of
scientific progress and its applications;
The preamble to the Vienna declaration
of 1993 states that, "All human rights are universal,
indivisible and interrelated. The international community
must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner,
on the same footing and with the same emphasis ... the significance
of national and regional particularities and various historical,
cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind".
In 1981, the IWC decided to
permit aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW). This is defined
as "whaling for purposes of local aboriginal consumption
carried out by or on behalf of aboriginal, indigenous or
native peoples who share strong community, familial, social
and cultural ties related to a continuing traditional dependence
on whaling and the use of whales".
The UN Convention of the Law
of the Sea states that, "One of the general principles
is the optimum sustainable utilisation of renewable marine
In 1982, there was a moratorium
on fishing for the endangered grey whale. In 1994 the population
had recovered to an estimated 21,000 individuals and was
removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List.
Makah tribe role card
Your role is to present the
case of the Makah Indians who live on the north-west coast
of North America. In this activity you should use your own
existing knowledge of human rights and environmental issues
together with the following quotes and information from
the Makah web site:
"Even though it is 70 years
since the last whale hunt took place, the ceremonies, the
rituals, the songs and the tales have been passed down and
kept alive. A whole social structure was built around the
hunt. Nowadays some Makah Indians make a living fishing
salmon and pacific sable fish, which is sold to a local
fish plant, but the old system of sharing between family
and friends is still in existence."
"It was the industrial
whaling operations carried out by Europeans and Americans
that depleted the whale stock. When the US government finally
decided to take conservation measures, the Makahs were also
forced to stop their hunt. Now, the stock is back up at
what is considered a historically high level of 21 000,
and was last year removed from the US Endangered Species
"There is a growing appreciation
amongst young people of the value of having an identity
based on one's own culture and history. Being part of a
culture that has a long tradition is a privilege that not
many young people in the US are given."
"We're not going to hunt
the grey whales for commercial purposes ... even though
we've heard rumours that we are going to sell them to the
Japanese. Our purpose for our whaling is for ceremonial
and subsistence. We've requested up to 5 grey whales but
that's not to say that we'll take them all. We will be an
active player to make sure the grey whale never goes back
on the Endangered Species List .... The tribe is the first
to recognise the need for harvest limitations ... it is
built into our values."
"The Makah carry out their
fishing operations in small coastal vessels. No decisions
have as yet been made with regard to what technology will
be used. Options include the old hand harpoon as it was
used traditionally, or a modified version with a grenade
on the tip like the ones used in the Alaskan bowhead hunt."
The High North
Alliance role card
The High North Alliance is an
umbrella organisation representing whalers and sealers from
Canada, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Norway,
as well as a number of local communities. The HNA is committed
to working for the future of coastal cultures and the sustainable
use of marine mammal resources. In this activity you should
use your own existing knowledge of human rights and environmental
issues together with the following quotes and information
from the High North Alliance web site.
"The Makahs had been whaling
for 2,000 years until these white imperialists came over
and were more eager to take the whales because this oil
and so on was so very important to them. And then they raped
that resource and the Makahs were not able to continue their
tradition. The Makahs had been very patiently waiting for
this resource to come back again. And that has happened
now. But now the white people have changed their minds.
Suddenly they want to ban all use of this resource."
"Different cultures will
never be able to agree on which animals are special and
which ones are best for dinner. In northern Norway people
have a special relationship to the eider duck although in
Denmark all reputable game merchants sell eider breast as
a delicacy. Therefore, the statement 'whales are different'
begs the question: different for whom?"
"Whaling, as well as sealing,
is allowed only as long as it is conducted by indigenous
peoples and is non-commercial. Only 'traditional' usage
is allowed, and it tends to be the outsiders who define
what is 'traditional'. To link whaling and sealing to a
non-commercial mode of production is to deny people their
obvious right to define their own future. No culture is
static, but the policy of anti-whalers is de facto an attempt
to "freeze" the situation, to turn an evolving
culture into a static museum object. Commercialism in itself
seems to be considered bad by the majority of the contracting
governments at the IWC. It is ironic that this view is expressed
by governments which are usually strong advocates of free
trade. But apparently, some people shall be denied access
to the world market. And if they want to partake in the
world economy, it shall not be on their own terms but on
those of the outsiders."
"The current moratorium,
or 'hands off whales' policy is difficult to defend using
logical arguments. There are many practices in agriculture,
fishing and forestry that are clearly unsustainable, but
there is no blanket ban on these industries."
"The report on Marine Mammals,
Council of Europe, July 12, 1993: 'Marine mammals are part
of the living resources of the ocean ecosystems. They should
be protected when threatened and only hunted when there
is certainty that the size of their stocks allows it. Hunting
may also be necessary in order to avert over-population
and imbalances in marine ecosystems."
"Whaling is a good example
of how international co-operation can transform a situation
of over-exploitation into one of sustainable use. International
co-operation is not perfect, but it can and does work. "
Sea Shepherd and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society role card
The Sea Shepherd International is a non-profit,
non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved with
the investigation and documentation of violations
of international laws, regulations and treaties protecting
marine wildlife species. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Society (WDCS) is the world's most active charity
dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all whales,
dolphins and porpoises.
Your role is to present the views of people concerned
with protecting nature and wildlife. You should use
your own existing knowledge of human rights and environmental
issues together with the following quotes and information
from the Sea Shepherd and Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Society web pages.
"The real reason for this initiative by the
Makah is because they know very well that whale meat
goes for $80 per kilo in Japan, and that one of those
whales is worth close to one million dollars. And
that doesn't just mean the five whales that they say
they want to kill. It will have implications for literally
thousands of whales because Norway and Japan and those
other nations that want to go whaling, like Russia
and Iceland, are looking at this very closely because
if the Makah are given permission to take whales it
will undermine any integrity the United States has
in the international marine conservation movement."
Capt. Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Society
"We are walking the tightrope of trying to
respect people's historical right to carry on long-standing
traditional ways of collecting necessary food and
yet balance the interests of conserving and protecting
whales ..., (and) attempting to understand the changing
world of indigenous peoples. For instance, in 1995
there was criticism of the Russian grey whale hunt
when it was alleged that whale meat was not being
eaten by indigenous peoples but was actually being
fed to foxes in fox fur farms."
"The Alaskan North Slope Eskimos are now economically
very different to the peoples who hunted whales a
century ago. Oil exploitation has brought pollution,
disruption and a host of new people to Alaska. It
has also brought an enormous amount of money to the
local people. To the casual observer, hunting from
modern skidoos and helicopters is straining the definition
of what is aboriginal."
"While the International Whaling Commission
(IWC) continues to debate the emotive issue of the
resumption of commercial whaling, hundreds of whales,
and their cousins, the smaller dolphins and porpoises,
are dying every year, almost unnoticed, in aboriginal
"In the context of wildlife, the precautionary
principle demands that when the impact of a proposed
action upon a species is not known, the benefit of
the doubt should be given to the species and the action
should not be undertaken until it can be shown that
the action will not impose an unacceptable cost or
loss to the species"
Greenpeace role card
Greenpeace supporters around the world campaign
for their visions of how to achieve a more sustainable
In this activity you should use your own existing
knowledge of human rights and environmental issues
together with the following quotes and information
from the web.
"Dress it up how you like - whaling is murder
and murder is wrong. To be sure, whales are not human
but are they less than human? The mind set that exults
in the killing of whales overlaps with the mindset
that accepts genocide of 'inferior' human beings.
We believe that the phrase "human rights"
is only superficially species chauvinistic. In a profound
sense, whales and some other sentient mammals are
entitled to human rights, or at least 'humanist rights',
to the most fundamental entitlements that we regard
as part of the humanitarian tradition."
"Greenpeace does not support any whaling programme,
but we don't oppose truly subsistence whaling. But
if there's ever a commercial element, we'd be front
of the line, in their face, opposing their programme."
"The undersigned groups respectfully appeal
to the Makah nation to refrain from the resumption
of whaling. People from many cultures world-wide hold
whales to be sacred and consider each species a sovereign
nation unto itself, worthy of respect and protection.
Grey whales migrate vast distances each year and bring
joy to many thousands of whale watchers. They only
briefly pass through Makah waters. We submit that
important spiritual traditions must be observed in
the context of a planet whose wildlife is being destroyed."
Action for Animals, Action for Animals Network and
"I was in complete shock when I heard that
we were thinking of killing grey whales - or any whales
... We went ahead and did the homework and found out
that there was a proposal to authorise 5 grey whales
to be taken by one tribe, and if they got it, several
other tribes on up into Canada and Alaska said 'Well,
if they can hunt them, we can hunt them.' And I just
think that the American people - who have a special
relationship with whales - I don't think that they're
ready for any kind of whale harvest at this time".
U.S Rep. Jack Metcalf
"Despite the moratorium on whaling imposed
by the international community in 1986, the whales
are still threatened. An effective method to give
further protection to the whales is the creation of
sanctuaries - areas where whaling is forbidden not
just temporarily, but for the indefinite future."
"It's extremely difficult to accurately determine
the actual number of whales in different whale populations.
The size of most populations is known no more accurately
than plus or minus 50%. Since changes happen very
slowly, it is impossible to tell if a population is
growing or shrinking in the course of a few years'
study. However, there is no doubt about the decline
in whale numbers caused by commercial whaling."