Whaling commission decision deserves immediate reversal

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2002

We should have known that things weren't going right with this year's whaling season.

It has been one of those years when things just didn't fall into place. The ice was wrong, the wind was wrong and the migration was early.

Now commercial whaling interests in Japan -- upset at the lack of a commercial harvest -- have convinced enough delegates at the International Whaling Commission to cancel subsistence whaling for at least the next five seasons. The Japanese response is a sick example of retaliatory politics that endangers an entire culture but does nothing for commercial whaling interests. There can be no comparison between whaling that is done for profit and whaling that is done for survival.

It is a difficult thing to try to explain what whaling means to the Eskimos of Alaska. Imagine if the Sioux, Cheyenne or Blackfoot were still able to hunt buffalo. The animal provided food not just for the body, but for the soul. The hunt helped bind a people to traditions that are thousands of years old.

Similarly, whaling is the center of Eskimo culture in whaling villages. As the buffalo, it not only provides food, but purpose, community and identity. Hunting, especially for whales, is what Eskimos do. To deny that right is to tell them they cannot be Eskimos.

That Eskimo whaling is being used as a bargaining chip by countries that are seeking commercial gain is unconscionable. To believe that Eskimos would give up this central portion of their culture without a heck of a fight is ridiculous.

The Inupiat and Yu'pik Eskimos of Alaska will continue to hunt whales with or without the blessing of the International Whaling Commission. The federal government must support them, while pursuing a speedy reversal. The survival of the Eskimo way of life demands it.

-- Alaska Newspapers Inc.

June 6

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