NEAH BAY (Sept. 7, 2005) – Members of the Makah Tribe will travel nearly 3,000 miles to the far eastern Russian region of Chukotka to thank its people for a gift that enabled the tribe to harvest a single gray whale in 1999.
The indigenous Chukotka people gave the Makah a share of its annual gray whale quota during the International Whaling Commission’s 1997 meeting. “It was just an amazing thing they did for us,” said Ben Johnson, Makah Tribal chairman.
Beginning Sept. 12, a delegation of 14 Makah tribal members will say thank you in person during a week-long stay in September in the remote Chukotka capitol city of Anadyr. The two tribes are exchanging cultural visits to strengthen their relationship. Most recently, the Chukotka native dance troupe Ergyron, visited Neah Bay in 2004. A group of traditional marine mammal hunters has visited in the past.
“I have no idea what to expect, but it should be fun and interesting,” said Arnie Hunter, a past vice president of the Makah whaling commission. Hunter has met some of the whaling captains in Alaska during a conference for native hunters, but has never traveled to Russia.
Anadyr, Chukotka is located directly west across the Bering Sea from Nome, Alaska and is home to 12,000 people. The region’s population declined dramatically in the last two decades a high of 160,000 to 70,000. High paying government jobs evaporated following the collapse of the Soviet Union and non-native Russians left to seek employment elsewhere. Poverty and hunger are common. Much of Chukotka is located in the Arctic Circle. There will be fewer than five hours of daylight during the Makah visit.
Roman Abramovich, one of the world’s richest men, is the new governor of Chukotka. He has brought positive change to the region and has enthusiastically supported the relationship between Chukotka and the Makah Tribe, including flying the Ergyron dance troupe to Seattle on his private jet.
“I think our relationship is a part of their desire to reach out to other native cultures and cement those relationships in the U.S. and around the world,” said Micah McCarty, Makah tribal councilman. “They are coming out of a period of isolation following the Cold War and now they have more opportunities to reach out. Their governor has been very supportive of our relationship.”
Arnie Hunter plans to leave a hand-crafted thank you. “They were really admiring our drums when they visited. I’m going to use a drum I just made during our singing and dancing and then leave it as a gift.” Other gifts, such as Makah Whaling Commisison jackets, will also be presented.
The trip was made possible by contributions from the Tulalip and Suquamish tribes. “We couldn’t have done this without those donations and we are grateful,” said McCarty.
For more information, contact: Ben Johnson, Makah tribal chairman, (360) 645-3234; Micah McCarty, Makah tribal councilman, (360) 645-3230; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission