Saturday, June 8, 2013

I'm a 'drive-by shooter'...

There wasn't much else to do; there was little opportunity to stop and shoot, and in some places it wasn't allowed at all. So this is the story and the reason why I am being called a 'drive-by shooter.'
Along the coastline of the Juan de Fuca Strait, northern
Washington State, heading toward Neah Bay in Clallum
County, the Makah tribal lands.
Last Thursday, at 9 a.m. a bus was loaded up with more than a dozen seniors from the Sequim Senior Center and we headed west (although it felt like north) for the Neah Bay and Makah (pronounced Mah-ki-ee) indian tribal grounds. I am usually pretty well informed when I head off on any trip, but this was a short notice event and I was sadly ignorant about a lot of the history of Neah Bay, located at the northwestern-most point of the U.S. in the State of Washington. It is about two hours driving time from Sequim, not including any stops, of which there was only one - in Joyce, at the General Store. (The link to Wikipedia will answer more of your questions, if you care to formulate any.)

Makah Senior Center in Neah Bay, Washington.
After our stop in Joyce, we drove up and over a portion of the Olympics to reach the Makah indian nation (This link to Wikipedia explains much about the tribe.). There is a lot of logging going on, as truck after truck went by loaded with timber. The road is windy with many curves designating 25 mph and indications of clear-cutting having occurred in the past. But there were also a significant number of old-growth trees still standing.

Periodically the road would parallel the body of water called Strait of Juan de Fuca, the main waterway route for ships coming into Seattle from their Pacific journey and an area of water that is loaded with fish of all kinds, including halibut.

Neah Bay from Senior Center looking toward marina.

Neah Bay from Senior Center looking toward Vancouver
Island, B.C. over Straits of Juan de Fuca. 
Outside the Makah Senior Center.

We arrived at the Makah Senior Center for the lunch we were promised, and it was a wonderful meal with a surprise gift of a tote bag, hand-made tea bag holders, a flashlight, and a hand-crafted necklace made by local seniors and members of the Makah tribe.

The meal was a delicious beef stew accompanied by a macaroni shell and shrimp salad, a green salad, bread and butter and two desserts - a fruit salad with coconut and a portion of pie.

No one left hungry, that was for sure! The views from the deck of the senior center were delightful and I am sure when it is a little bit warmer that this is a nice place to enjoy some sunshine and gentle breezes.

The welcome of the tribal members was very special and warm and was an added element of delight for the trip overall. We were bussed over to the Makah Museum where June, a tribal elder, gave a detailed tour of the artifacts. Our introduction was to learn that the name of the tribe means, "People who live by the rocks and seagulls." She explained the history of the tribal lands and how the Makah peoples lived. We were not allowed to take any photos or do any sketching, and although we were not told why, my past experience with native peoples is that it is because we are looking at 'remains' of their way of life, and while historically important, they are also part of the ancestral burial sites, even though - in this case - it was due in large part to a mudslide, not a planned location.

Ozette Lake is one of the largest natural and undeveloped lakes in the State of Washington, and is now a popular place for hiking and camping during the summer. But it was once the central home of the Makah tribe, a good place to have a home with access to the Pacific waters for whaling and fresh water for the tribal needs. The archeological information places the origins of the people back over 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest native groups in North America. The Makah used to be a whaling community, but with the devastating mudslide which destroyed the ancient village in Ozette about 1750 and the consequences of smallpox from the Europeans later on on another nearby village, the remaining portions of the tribe seemed to have relocated closer to Neah Bay. The archeological dig is on the National Register of Historic Places, but is privately owned by the Makah nation.

Shells collected on the beach have been strung together
with beads and a carved whale tail for this necklace.
In the museum we were invited to sit in a replica of a longhouse, the native american version of an apartment house where several families lived together, except that the families worked together to keep everything working which is where the concept diverges. There we heard about how the tribe was structured, without chiefs, but group leaders who helped their people survive. And how today the Makah are working together to keep their young people healthy and fit.

We were shown the beautifully crafted whaling boats, made from one large tree, and all the implements needed for bringing in the large marine creatures. One interesting fact is that there were several Makah 'warriors' who were trained to hold their breath long enough that they could swim to the mouth of the whale and sew it shut after it had been harpooned, so then it could not dive. This was fascinating to me; that these ancient peoples knew how to keep a whale afloat. And once it was secured, they would tow it back to the shore to harvest, using all of the creature for their livelihood - blubber, meat, bones.
This necklace of shells and beads honors the seal-hunting
traditions of the Makah people.

Another interesting fact was that the wife of the man who would do the harpooning was required to go to bed, not eat and be quiet while her husband was off looking for, and getting, the whale. It was believed that if she was peaceful, her husband would not have to deal with a thrashing and dangerous whale and he would come home with a successful hunt's reward, a large and bountiful whale. The other women in the tribe would care for her, wash her, attend the children, and generally support her for the two or three days of the hunt. In this I can really see the concept of "it takes a village..." at work.

The Makah Cultural and Research Center Museum is well worth a visit.
It will take at least two hours to complete the tour and shop at the store.
In late August each year Neah Bay celebrates Makah Days, honoring the day years ago when the tribe accepted the flag of the United States to fly over their territorial lands. But it is sad to realize that the Treaty of 1855 took much of the land the tribe used, limiting their use to about one third of the original area claimed by the Makah. However, the elders were astute enough to keep in their rights to hunt whales and in May, 1999, knowing the whale population had improved, they asserted those rights and did go and bring back one grey whale, the bones of which are displayed in the museum.

The Makah people are instrumental in coordinating the annual 'journey' of native peoples by canoe and boat, a celebration of the old ways of living. This year the journey is in July, but the actual date was not discussed. Here is a link for the calendar of events of native peoples on the Olympic Peninsula. It should be a photographer's dream with all the colorful regalia (native dress and ornamentation) and events... I hope to be able to go and report on it, but I also have Colombia calling me, so we shall see what evolves.

At least no one was hurt in this drive-by shooting... and you can see more pictures here.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful and informative post, Sandy! I really enjoyed reading this. Take care of yourself, kiddo!