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Originally published September 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 14, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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"Their selfish, cruel act betrayed whales and the Makah Tribe."

A sampling of readers' letters, faxes and e-mail.

Whale wake

Mourning our brethren and the desecration of our ancestral legacy

Editor, The Times:

We are First Nations whale conservationists who regard whales as our sacred brethren. The heinous poaching of a gray whale by five Makah tribal members pains us deeply ["Gray whale shot, killed in rogue tribal hunt," Times page one, Sept. 9].

No tribal tradition we know of would condone the ruthless killing of this whale. The poachers desecrated an ancestral whaling legacy, compromising it beyond redemption. Their selfish, cruel act betrayed whales and the Makah Tribe.

Inflicting mortal wounds that cause an animal to bleed to death over 10 hours; killing out of frustration with bureaucratic delays; putting ego and self above community — such behavior mocks traditional Native values. The poachers' blatantly illegal actions warrant full prosecution in Makah tribal court and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The time is overdue for Makah elders, culture bearers and tribal leaders to reassess the viability of whaling in the 21st century. Imperiled by global warming, habitat destruction and other monumental threats, fragile whale populations will not endure for the next seven generations if only select groups of humans commit to protecting whales, while others persist in exploiting whales.

— Ann Stateler (Choctaw/Five Tribes)

— Odin Lonning (Tlingit), board members, American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound chapter; co-managers, the Vashon Hydrophone Project (Puget Sound's only Native-run whale research project), Vashon

A fitting stone

There is no doubt that the five Makahs arrested for illegal whaling acted foolishly, if only because they've endangered the tribe's legal claim and triggered another tidal wave of hypocritical, non-Indian objections.

The cities and industries ringing Puget Sound and the Pacific Rim have done far more than a small tribe of Indians could ever do to destroy whale populations and the oceans in general.

How many of those who've written in to condemn the hunt ["To the lost whale" and "Whale raider," Northwest Voices, Sept. 12 and Sept. 13] are even aware of the Navy's ongoing effort to test a new form of sonar that deafens whales and drives them onto beaches? How many contribute to and benefit from the daily despoliation of the environment that has brought Northwest salmon populations to the brink of collapse?

Instead of screaming about the "silly" and "barbaric" traditions of the Makah, who have also adapted to the world as it is, non-Native society should take a good, hard look at itself and the results of the "progress" we've supposedly made. Maybe we should get our own glass house in order before we start casting stones at the people we've dispossessed.

— Andy Fisher, Department of History, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va.

Raise your candle

Regarding "Clinging to jetsam" [Northwest Voices, Sept. 13], would the writer feel different if the Makah said, "All Americans have the right to free speech any time, provided they do it like their ancestors did 200 years ago — by forgoing the Internet, television, radio, megaphones and full-page newspaper ads"?

Neither the Makah nor all Americans have any obligation to exercise a legal right only in the "traditional" way. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor a single Indian treaty contains that requirement. Once granted a right, we can exercise that right in any way we choose, provided we do it legally and we do not harm others.

Our illogical insistence that the Makah whalers cling to traditional methods just because they exercise a traditional right is both legally false and a huge double standard. When we are all ready to use the Bill of Rights only in ways that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did, then we are ready to demand that the Makah hunt only with canoes and harpoons.

— Jeff Hickey, Redmond

Present arms

The use of a "machine gun" was referred to a combined total of four times in Wednesday's letters to the editor and it was implied that this nontraditional addition to the hunt adds to the "torture" of the whale.

The Weatherby rifle used in the hunt was a bolt-action rifle designed to hunt elephants. Each cartridge is loaded by operating the action manually; the rifle is neither "automatic" nor "semiautomatic."

A "machine gun" is an auto-loading rifle designed for military or police use that continues to fire as long as cartridges remain and the trigger is held back. Traditional hunters did not have the ability to kill a whale quickly.

The rifle was added to the hunt to reduce the length of time a harpooned whale suffers from its injuries, and was not added to the hunter's arsenal to "torture" the whale.

— Rob Nielsen, Seattle

The mortal condition

Ignore the gun (machine gun, high-powered rifle, or whatever other new description may appear). Ignore whether traditional canoes are used in the whale hunt. Ignore whether the whale's flesh gets eaten, or people connect with their heritage. An overarching issue is whether it's OK to hunt these animals, and why (or why not).

Is hunting OK? Does it depend on whether the animal can feel pain, on its level of intelligence, on the number of animals left and their and their habitat's condition?

If we can't agree how to answer this question — and collectively, the American people cannot — then we have no good answer for whether the Makah may hunt whales. All we can do is appeal rhetorically about insignificant details.

— Eugene Goodrich, Seattle

Cellular savior

Beyond the phone booth

It appears most Times readers are vehemently opposed to cellphone use in our schools ["Cellphone message," Northwest Voices, Sept. 10]. I wonder whether these people believe that a hypothetical school shooter is simply going to allow students to retrieve their cellphones and call for help in the event of a hostage crisis.

How much easier are we going to make it for an armed criminal to commit mass murder?

Perhaps the school administrators should focus on the big things, like reducing gun violence in schools, and stop trying to micromanage the younger generation.

— Daniel James Miller, Redmond

Nice trip

See who's next fool

It was heartening to see such a rare display of objectivity from liberal travel guru Rick Steves ["The world according to Rick Steves," Living, Sept. 12], when he explained that "People in most countries know from firsthand experience that you can elect a person that's an embarrassment, so they cut us some slack."

The natural follow-up question, of course, becomes: Was he talking about Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and/or Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.?

— R. Bruce Kennedy, Redmond

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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