After 20 years, Washington tribe hopes to hunt whales again

SEATTLE (AP) — Patrick DePoe was in high school the last time his Native American tribe in Washington state was allowed to hunt whales. He was on a canoe that greeted the crew towing in the body of a gray whale. His shop class worked to clean the bones and reassemble the skeleton, which hangs in a tribal museum.

Two decades later, he and the Makah Tribe — the only American Indians with a treaty right to hunt whales — are still waiting for government permission to hunt again as their people historically did. The tribe, in the remote northwest corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, hopes to use the whales for food and to make handicrafts, artwork and tools they can sell.

The tribe’s plans have been tied up in legal fights and layers of scientific review. The next step is a weeklong administrative hearing that began Thursday in Seattle. Whatever the result, it’s likely to be stuck in further court challenges, with animal rights activists vowing to block the practice they call unnecessary and barbaric.

“It shouldn’t have taken 20 years to be where we’re at now,” said DePoe, a tribal council member. “People ask how it makes me feel. I want to ask, ‘How does it make you feel that this is the process we’re having to go through to exercise a right that’s already been agreed upon?’ It’s a treaty right. It’s settled law.”

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