Spirits of Our Whaling Ancestors
328 pages, 7 x 10
22 b&w illustrations, 3 maps
Release Date:15 Aug 2010

Spirits of Our Whaling Ancestors

Revitalizing Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Traditions

UBC Press

Following the removal of the gray whale from the Endangered Species list in 1994, the Makah tribe of northwest Washington State announced that they would revive their whale hunts; their relatives, the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation of British Columbia shortly followed suit. Neither tribe had exercised their right to whale-in the case of the Makah, a right affirmed in their 1855 treaty with the federal government-since the gray whale had been hunted nearly to extinction by commercial whalers in the 1920s. The Makah whale hunt of 1999 was an event of international significance, connected to the worldwide struggle for aboriginal sovereignty and to the broader discourses of environmental sustainability, treaty rights, human rights, and animal rights. It was met with enthusiastic support and vehement opposition.

As a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, Charlotte Coté offers a valuable perspective on the issues surrounding indigenous whaling, past and present. Whaling served important social, economic, and ritual functions that have been at the core of Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth societies throughout their histories. Even as Native societies faced disease epidemics and federal policies that undermined their cultures, they remained connected to their traditions. The revival of whaling has implications for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of these Native communities today, Coté asserts. Whaling, she says, “defines who we are as a people.”

Her analysis includes major Native studies and contemporary Native rights issues, addressing environmentalism, animal rights activism, anti-treaty conservatism, and the public's expectations about what it means to be “Indian.” These thoughtful critiques are intertwined with the author's personal reflections, family stories, and information from indigenous, anthropological, and historical sources to provide a bridge between cultures.

This work by an indigenous scholar, trained in the academy who also has hereditary rights to particular kinds of information and who shares the traditions of her own family and community, makes a powerful contribution to Northwest Coast indigenous and environmental history. Coll Thrush, author of Native Seattle: Stories from the Crossing-Over Place
An excellent and timely book that chronicles the revitalization of the honored whaling tradition among the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth but also raises broader issues of eco-colonialism, identity, and self-determination within the cultural nexus and political ecology of modern environmentalism and indigenous hunting economies. Thomas Thornton, author of Being and Place among the Tlingit
Charlotte Coté is an associate professor of American Indian studies at the University of Washington.

Foreword by Micah McCarty

Kleko Kleko / Thank You


Nuu-chah-nulth Pronunciation Guide


Introduction: Honoring Our Whaling Ancestors

1 Tsawalk: The Centrality of Whaling to Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Life

2 Utla: Worldviews Collide: The Arrival of Mamalhn’i in Indian Territory

3 Kutsa: Maintaining the Cultural Link to Whaling Ancestors

4 Muu: The Makah Harvest a Whale

5 Sucha: Challenges to Our Right to Whale

6 Nupu: Legal Impediments Spark a 2007 Hunt

7 Atlpu: Restoring Nanash’agtl Communities




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