Tribe takes issue

The Makah hunt is every Northwest reporter's dream story, but with every news organization in Seattle telling their version, it's easy for the issues to get oversimplified. Much of Eric Scigliano's "Wait and Switch" article (10/8) falls into this very trap, which he chastises other media for not avoiding.

The Makah tribe has followed federal and international requirements to make this hunt happen. They have agreed to issue permits with the intent of targeting migratory whales, even though scientists believe this distinction between migrants and so-called "residents" is questionable. Under their treaty, the Makahs could have unilaterally hunted gray whale since its removal from the endangered species list, but instead they chose to cooperate with the United States government by seeking and winning approval of the International Whaling Commission.

Federal and tribal laws have never required the Makah tribe to give any federal agencies 24 hours notice before permit is issued as long as a National Marine Fisheries Service observer is present on the reservation. It's expected that an observer will be on-site for the duration of the season. The Makahs have agreed that a NMFS observer will be present on a Makah chase boat to document the hunt. No "switch" here; this clause has been written in the Makahs' whaling management plan on which the hunt is based.

Mr. Scigliano criticizes The Seattle Times and other mainstream newspapers for supporting the hunt. Yet these daily newspapers have provided in-depth coverage of the whaling issue, while the Weekly coverage has been sporadic at best. In reviewing the latest Seattle Times editorial, Mr. Scigliano dredged up the same tired and fallacious arguments Sea Shepherd Society spokesman Paul Watson continues to use.

For example, Mr. Scigliano contends that the "in common" language gives the Makahs no rights to hunt whales beyond those held by other US citizens. Yet, the courts have repeatedly held that treaties provide the tribes with special hunting and fishing rights not shared by most other Americans. If the whaling clause of the treaty gave the Makahs no special rights to whale, the treaty language would be essentially meaningless. The Makahs gave up most of the Olympic Peninsula in the treaty, yet no one is suggesting that these lands be returned to the tribe.

Mr. Scigliano implies that the Makahs intend to resume commercial whaling, but the Makahs have repeatedly stated that their hunt is solely for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Commercial whaling is illegal under federal law, and the Makahs have written it into their own management plan, making it illegal under Makah law.

Mr. Scigliano argues that the Makahs will not like gray-whale meat. Yet other protest organizations also argue that the same gray whale meat that the Makahs will find unpalatable can be traded in Japan's seafood markets for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mr. Scigliano also says that Sea Shepherd does not intend to "sabotage" the hunt. If they only plan to play orca sounds from their submarine, why is the full armada out in Neah Bay complete with retired Coast Guard cutter and high-speed Zodiacs? Not withstanding Mr. Watson's service at Wounded Knee, Sea Shepherd is a very dangerous organization. They have been denied official observer status at the International Whaling Commission meetings since 1987 because of their terrorist activities. They've claimed credit for ramming and sinking whaling vessels from Norway and Japan and have vowed in their own press release to "directly intervene at sea to protect whales from harpoons."

Finally, Mr. Scigliano reports that the IWC did not approve the Makah tribe's whale hunt under the "aboriginal subsistence" exemption to the commercial whaling moratorium. Congressman [Jack] Metcalf made the same argument in his lawsuit challenging Makah whaling, and the argument was rejected by the federal court.

Mr. Scigliano apparently believes that Sea Shepherd and other self-appointed "whale guardians" have the right to ignore federal court decisions and take the law into their own hands. Such a philosophy threatens to take our region back to the days of the Boldt decision when opponents of treaty rights repeatedly defied court orders.

John Arum

Attorney for the Makah Tribe

Eric Scigliano replies: I've been called many things before, but never "a protest organization." John Arum makes some good points, repeats some points I made, and misrepresents some of what I wrote. I didn't say that "federal and tribal law" required 24-hour notice, rather that "the feds expected" this after their negotiations.

I wrote that the "prevailing interpretation" of the treaty is that the Makahs' whaling rights endure even if other citizens may no longer hunt whales. I didn't "argue that the Makah will not like gray-whale meat" (they say it smokes well), but said it's "not a popular 'delicacy.'" That does indeed puncture the claim that it would bring big money in Tokyo.

The Sea Shepherd press release threatening to "directly intervene" dates from 1995. The group now says it will only scare off the whales with orca sounds and the sub. Other protesters have threatened more active interference; I also noted the Makahs' "reasonable" fears on that score.

Sea Shepherd claims to have scuttled Norwegian, Icelandic, and Spanish whaling vessels in port (avowedly so as not to endanger lives at sea), to have rammed drift-net fishers, and to have been rammed by a Norwegian destroyer.

I noted that the International Whaling Commission "didn't exactly 'approve' the Makah hunt." As Judge Burgess concluded in the same Metcalf case, "The IWC may not allocate quotas for specific aboriginal groups or countries. The IWC has approved a subsistence quota for California gray whales." The US and Russia divided this allocation. Australia's delegation, opposing that arrangement, declared, "Claims that the passage of the [amendment making this possible] constitute an acceptance or recognition by the Commission of the validity of the Makah claims are false."

Yes, as I noted, the resident/migratory distinction is questionable. Regardless, on October 2, a month or more before migratory whales would appear, Arum and Makah whaling president Keith Johnson declared on TV that the hunt would soon start. If he wants to say this was a clever ruse to wear out the protesters, I'll believe him.

Defense council

We're pleased that Bob Simmons agrees that "the news council concept is a good one" and that "a Washington News Council, modeled after the successful one in Minnesota" is a "fine idea" (see Letters to the Editor, 10/15). Simmons questions whether the Washington News Council (WNC) will be truly diverse and whether it can be credibly administered by John Hamer, former Watchdogs columnist and conservative media critic. (Mariana Parks is no longer involved in the WNC on a day-to-day basis.)

Let me address Simmons' concerns. First, the WNC's "founding board" to which he referred will not be members of the council. Our distinguished founders had the courage to step forward and help launch the WNC. Simmons complains that they are not as diverse as he would like. But any board that includes Patsy Collins, Jim Ellis, Mike Lowry, Ken Hatch, Ron Judd, and Pat Herbold is clearly ideologically diverse. And our base has broadened significantly in the past few weeks as we continue to gain support from a wide range of people and communities statewide. For a full supporters' list, see our Web site at http://members.aol.com/wnewsc/wnc.

Nominations are now open for the 24 council members. We invite Simmons—and anyone else—to nominate up to three individuals (including themselves) qualified and willing to serve. Criteria for selection include a strong belief in a free press, fair-mindedness, diversity, and commitment to hard work. The council will develop policies for handling media complaints, conduct public hearings, sponsor educational forums, hold mock hearings with students, and oversee our publications, Web site, and other activities.

We've already mailed or faxed hundreds of nomination forms to the media, community leaders, and average citizens throughout the state, and we've had great response. (For a nomination form, call 206-923-2955, or download it from our Web site.) The nomination deadline is October 30, 1998.

As for Simmons' second concern, WNC members will also act as its board of directors. Hamer, as executive director, will serve at the board's discretion. If they conclude that he is not doing a fair, balanced, and credible job, they are free to replace him. I, for one, believe he will do an excellent job. Having worked with him for several months, while I do not always agree with his politics, I don't doubt his strong commitment to good journalism and civil discourse. He has worked tirelessly to establish the WNC because he believes it is important, not for financial motives.

Our fund-raising efforts have just begun—but we've already received checks from people on all sides of the ideological spectrum. Our goal is approximately equal support from foundations, media, corporations, associations, and individuals. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, so contributions are tax-deductible.

We'll be watching for Bob Simmons' nominations—and perhaps his check.

Sandy Schoolfield

Acting President

WNC Board of Directors

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