Resurrection

After a 70-year hiatus and a confrontation with the world, the Makah tribe resumes its communion with the gray whale

The community, Parker says, is no longer living in the past, looking into a museum to feel its heritage.

"We are a living culture," he says. "It's not, "This is what they used to do.' This is what we do as a people."

Traditions that have long been set aside, but never forgotten, once again have an urgency.

Keeping the Makah Whaling Tradition Alive: Keith Johnson, left, and his 
son, Keith Jr., and father, Frank Johnson.
John Dougherty
Keeping the Makah Whaling Tradition Alive: Keith Johnson, left, and his son, Keith Jr., and father, Frank Johnson.
Wilson Parker, Makah whaler, stands on the beach at the Waatch River. 
Merged into this historical photograph is a recent portrait, right, of his 
great-grandson, Theron Parker, standing in the same spot with whaling 
gear and wearing the same silver ring passed down to him.
Cheryl Humber
Wilson Parker, Makah whaler, stands on the beach at the Waatch River. Merged into this historical photograph is a recent portrait, right, of his great-grandson, Theron Parker, standing in the same spot with whaling gear and wearing the same silver ring passed down to him.

"The whaling songs those families had, we can use those songs, because there is a purpose for using them again," he says.

His hope for the future is that whaling will help improve the overall health of the community.

"It makes the whole community come together and work together as a tribe," he says.

No one knows when the next whale hunt will begin.

The Makah are waiting for the government to issue the final environmental documents, although several whalers say they are growing impatient and might just do a hunt without federal approval.

Parker says he's in no hurry.

"We'll hunt when we are ready to hunt," he says.

As summer begins, Parker and his wife, Polly, are busy organizing canoe races and rounding up participants for this summer's Tribal Journey -- looking for those future Makah whalers.

They recently had all the racing and whaling canoes out on the water for children of the community to explore.

"Once they got in there, they never wanted to get out," he says. "There were canoes all over the water. It was the most awesome sight."

Parker thinks for a moment about his childhood. About the time the research center director showed him the harpoon tip embedded in the vertebra of a whale. He remembers how impressed he was with the power of that ancient whaler.

"Come luck, or however you go with that, my harpoon did the same thing as the bone that I had seen," Parker says.

The connection and its transformational impact leave him in awe.

"It just kind of blew me away," he says. "I thought about this man and now I am this man."

This man. The barefoot Makah whaler. Walking down the beach. Harpoon in hand. Staring ahead.

The image hangs as a life-size photograph in the Makah Cultural and Research Center, overlooking the whaling canoe.

It is an image Parker has seen most of his life.

The photograph by renowned Northwest historian Asahel Curtis is perhaps the most widely displayed image of a Native American whaler in the country. It hangs in museums throughout the Northwest.

The photograph is of a Makah whaler named Wilson Parker -- the great-grandfather of Theron Parker.

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