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Memorial for a brave and inspirational Makah Elder

14 April 2012

Alberta Nora Thompson December 3, 1923 - April 11, 2012

December 3, 1923 - April 11, 2012In 1995, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had a dilemma. Our loyalty to the whales was to be tested when we took a stand in defense of the California Gray Whale and opposed the proposal by the Makah Tribal Counsel of Washington State to kill five whales each year, to revive the traditional Makah whaling culture. The Makah had not killed a whale for nearly a century and they did not meet the International Whaling Commission rules governing aboriginal whaling, specifically the criteria of nutritional necessity and unbroken tradition.

We refused to discriminate and allow the Makah a free pass to kill whales. We felt it would be racist of us to turn a blind eye on the Makah as we fought whaling by the Japanese, Faeroese, Icelanders, and Norwegians. We also knew that taking a non-discriminatory position would cause us to be accused of racism for daring to confront an American Indian tribe over the killing of whales.

It was a tough decision, but as an organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of whales, we had no choice. We had to defend the whales. This task was made easier for us when we gained the support of some of the Elders of the Makah who saw this move to revive whaling as disingenuous. The most outspoken and most courageous of these Elders was Alberta “Binky” Thompson.

I remember her telling me that this was not about Makah culture, it was simply about a small group of young Makah wanting to kill whales and that it was instigated by the Japanese Whaling Industry. The initial plan was to set up a commercial operation to supply whale meat to Japan. The commercial plans were quickly shot down, but the Makah Tribal Council decided to go ahead with reviving whaling. The Federal government provided money to train and support the Makah including funding representatives of the International Whaling Commission to present their case for whaling. Also attending the IWC meetings in 1997 in Monaco were Makah Elders Jesse Ides, Dottie Chamblin, and Alberta Thompson. They were there to defend the whales, not whaling.