Long, Marybeth. 2001. "To Whale or Not to Whale: Conflicts Over Species Protection and Ways of Life in the Pacific Northwest." Global Environmental Assessment Project Research Proposal, February.
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Should the Makah tribe of Washington State resume whaling practices it abandoned in the 1920s? This question raises complex challenges for environmental assessment and policymaking. As the Makah conflict plays out in local, national, and international arenas, interested parties clash over questions of environmental protection, cultural preservation, and indigenous rights. The International Whaling Commission (IWC), United States courts, indigenous peoples, and environmentalists have all weighed in on whether to allow Makah whaling to take place. Each of these groups, however, has advanced a different framing of the issues in question and different forms of evidence to support their claims, contributing to impasse, anger, and even violence. The IWC focuses on cetology and whether or not whale populations are sustainable. The US government views Makah whaling as a rights issue extending as far back as an 1855 treaty. The Makah and tribes like them in Alaska and Canada maintain that whaling is necessary for preserving their identity and cultural heritage. Environmentalist protestors argue that the Makah’s practices do not qualify as subsistence whaling and threaten to pave the way for commercial whaling worldwide. In the face of such divergent interpretations and claims, I explore how actors in the Makah episode construct, employ, and evaluate “scientific proof” and “traditional knowledge.” Based on this analysis I identify similarities between the Makah case and negotiations over biodiversity conservation, forest preservation, and development and suggest how assessment practices and deliberatory forums might better accommodate changing definitions of expertise and bases for action in environmental politics.
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