The Suquamish Tribe was pleased to learn that after a weeklong hearing in November 2019 regarding the proposed waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the presiding Administrative Law Judge recently issued a recommendation that the National Marine Fisheries Service approved the proposed waiver and federal regulations that would govern a Makah gray whale hunt.
Based on the information available to us, it seems clear that the judge relied on an extensive scientific record established by NMFS’s and the Makah Tribe’s experts and determined based on that record that the proposed waiver complies with all requirements of the MMPA. The tribe urges you to approve the waiver and proposed regulations so that the Makah Tribe can exercise its treaty right to hunt gray whales in accordance with the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay and other applicable law. It is also understood that the judge recommended certain modifications to the proposed regulations, and we defer to the Makah Tribe’s views about those detailed changes.
As a tribe with treaty reserved rights, we believe that these rights are only appropriately addressed on a government-to-government basis with the United States. Our ancestors fought for the rights reserved in the Treaty of Point Elliott, knowing that these rights were fundamental to our culture, our ceremonies and our existence. The treaties, themselves, are sacred having preserved our way of life while also providing for our future. The United States also recognizes its importance as the supreme law of the land and protected by the Constitution of the United States.
Our ancestors reserved their treaty rights because they are fundamental to our existence. We exchanged our ancestral lands for reserved rights under the treaty with the United States to validate existing and allow for future settlement in what is now Washington state.
Tribes, including the Suquamish and Makah, have managed our fisheries and game for thousands of years in a sustainable manner to maintain our way of life and culture. While some, including animal welfare groups, may disagree with harvests exercised under our treaty, our treaties are not subject to the whims of public sentiment either toward fishing, hunting, whaling or the tribes themselves.
However, they are subject to sound and scientific co-management principles exercised by the tribes in cooperation with other government representatives. The Makah Tribe reserved the right to hunt whales and the Makah’s right to take whales, as their ancestors did, is the supreme law of the land.
Public review and policy concerns were appropriately addressed at the time the United States entered into these treaties, and the United States promised us our continued right to hunt, fish and whale.
The Suquamish Tribe supports your approval of the proposed waiver and regulations following the judge’s favorable recommendation, and we urge you to approve the waiver. All issues regarding treaty implementation should be addressed directly with the Makah Tribe.
Leonard Forsman is tribal chairman of the Suquamish Tribe.