One time many years ago I had the opportunity to sample of piece of muktuk.
I didn’t much care for it because it had a faintly fishy taste and the same rubbery consistency of whale blubber. That’s probably because muktuk is whale blubber.
But I try my best never to allow my personal tastes to prejudice my opinion of people whose notion of cultural delicacies might be foreign to my diet. If Scots want to celebrate new years by devouring sheep guts stuffed with oatmeal, then that’s their cultural prerogative.
If Newfoundlanders crave cod tongues, or Inuit relish rubbery whale meat, it’s no skin off my nose.
The ultimate test of tolerance is whether we respect one another’s tastes and traditions. We might raise our eyebrows or furrow our brows at other peoples’ customs, but human beings are at their best when they celebrate rather than condemn one another’s differences.
In that context, one wonders what’s really behind all the uproar over a Pacific Coast Indian tribe killing their first whale in 70 years.
Makah have hunted whales for centuries before there were white men to tell them how inappropriate their customs were. It wasn’t until Europeans started fishing practices that represent the marine equivalent of strip mining that concepts like “endangered species” had to be developed.
Until they harpooned a lone 30 ton grey whale last month, the Makah had respected (honoured) this species endangered status since 1929, even though an 1855 Treaty guaranteed their hunting right. Their ceremonial Hunt, which tribal leaders say will rekindle their culture and breathe pride into their community, was hampered by self-proclaimed animal rights activists buzzing around the whaling canoe in jet-skis and speed boats.
The media seized on the event, churning out more stories about the impact of Indians killing a single whale than they had produced in 1996 to announce the five-year findings of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples. (Interestingly, the 3500 page RCAP report harshly criticized the media for their overtly stereotypical approach to reporting on Indian issues, noting: ”… Many Canadians know aboriginal people only as noble environmentalists, angry warriors or pitiful victims.”)
Some journalists treated the Makah more nobly than others, questioning the Kamakaze boating tactics of the anti-Whalers, and accusations that the Makah were guilty of “atrocities” and even murder. Celebrity environmentalist Paul Watson said the Makah were not honouring their culture, but merely “trophy hunting.”
This concern for all our non-human relations is really touching, coming from people who don’t seem to object to the daily slaughter of thousands of pigs, cattle, sheep and chickens to fill their stomachs or put clothes on their back and shoes on their feet. These critics of aboriginal culture come from communities like Calgary, whose parks superintendent has produced a plan to poison hundreds of gophers whose burrows are defacing his pretty baseball fields. They come from communities like Sudbury, whose police force has decided that it’s cheaper to shoot the hungry bears that wander into the suburbs instead of shipping them back to their natural habitat.
An Ontario based organization calling itself Hunting Herltage/Hunting Futures is receiving significant support from the Mike Harris government in its efforts to develop a code for responsible hunting practices. One of their “principles of ethical hunting” states that, “… Hunting can be celebrated. In part, through its connection to the cultural, historical, and spiritual values of the communities in which we live.”
The Makah whalers couldn’t have said it any better themselves.
Behind the furor being raised over the Makah whale Hunt lies the real issue: critics weren’t nearly so concerned about what was being hunted, or how, as they were about who was doing the hunting. Self-styled Vancouver animal rights activist Peter Hamilton revealed the protesters true agenda when he said that “anyone who enjoys subjecting an intelligent, sentient whale to an agonizing, slow death is a bloodthirsty savage.”
There’s a word to describe people who express hatred against others whose culture is different from theirs. The word isn’t environmentalists or conservationist or activist.
The word is bigot.
Maurice Switzer is a member of the Mississaugas of Rice Lake First Nation at Alderville Ontario, and director of communications for the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa.