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What is the Makah Tribe?

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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Images By: Dulsita, Tlaloc Xicotencatl
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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The Makah tribe, Native Americans from the Northwestern Coast region of the United States, is misnamed. "Makah," or "generous ones," was the name given to these American Indians by a tribe that lived nearby. Qwiqwidicciat, translated means "the people of the point" or "people of the cape," is the name the Makah people use for themselves. Today, the Makah tribe has a reservation in the state of Washington.

While the Qwiqwidicciat roamed between coastal areas and inland forested acres, the Makah tribe had five permanent villages in the Pacific Northwest, which housed 2,000 to 4,000 Native Americans. The people lived in long houses built with cedar planks. Several generations of extended families lived in these longhouses, which were about 30 feet wide and 70 feet long (about 9 by 21 meters).

The Makah tribe traditionally looked to the seas to maintain their lives. Qwiqwidicciat caught fish such as salmon and halibut and ate the fish fresh, dried or smoked. They carried cured fish to eat through the winter months. Qwiqwidicciat also caught porpoises and seals, ate the meats fresh and also cured these meats for winters while using porpoise and seal skins for floats. Members of this tribe also were whalers.

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Qwiqwidicciat hunted whales including gray, humpback, sperm, and blue whales. After being caught, the whales were used for food. In addition, the whales’ blubber was used to make oil, which was used by the Makah tribe or traded to other Native Americans. Oil was also traded to Europeans and European-Americans as time went on. Whale bones were used to make objects such as weapons and personal adornments.

In the late 1700s, even before the Makah tribe came directly into contact with Europeans, these Native Americans started to die because of diseases such as whooping cough, smallpox, influenza, and tuberculosis, all of which are infections the Qwiqwidicciat had never developed natural immunities to fight. These deaths resulted in gaps of knowledge that had traditionally been passed from generation to generation within extended families.

Whaling rights were a key feature of the treaty that the Makah tribe negotiated with the United States in 1855, known as the Treaty of Neah Bay in 1855. In order to continue whaling and to preserve other Makah culture, the Makah Nation gave the United States 300,000 acres (about 121,406 hectares). This treaty was ratified by the United States Congress in 1859.

Today, the Makah are able to hunt one whale per year. The Makah reservation contains about 27,000 acres, although the reservation can increase should the Makah purchase more land. This reservation contains a museum as well as restaurants and a public school.

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