Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest practiced traditions that been dramatically affected by aggressive settlement and the com- modification of natural resources, and they now must confront attempts to challenge their traditions and rights through the use of pervasive neocolonialism. The fact that the Makah Nation is placed in a position where it has to obtain permission from local, national, and even international systems to hunt a whale is an indication of the cur- rent complexities of maintaining treaty rights and certain cultural traditions.
The often-extreme responses to the Makah whale hunt directly threaten the Makah Nation’s tribal sovereignty, and their treaty rights are targeted by blatant neocolonialism and anti-Indigenous sentiments. Indigenous communities have beliefs and narratives distinct to their own histories and traditions, and yet they are still held to the standards of other nations and individuals. In addition to expertly navigating the legal system in order to maintain certain cultural beliefs and traditions, many Indigenous communities face added pressures to conform to the ideological structures of dominant cultures and succumb to hegemony. In order to continue practicing cultural tradi- tions that do not resonate with beliefs of dominant cultures, Indigenous communities are also under pressure to validate their cul- tures through ongoing Indigenous tribal narratives that demonstrate the importance of specific traditions and practices. Indigenous tribal narratives are precious and vital to a collective understanding of the world and its history, and these narratives need to be more visible and available to deflect neocolonialism.
While ceremonial knowledge should be respected, it cannot be respected by individuals who do not understand its importance. By either ignoring or being unaware of the value of these narratives, individuals perpetuate the colonialist agendas of the past and embrace forms of neocolonialism. Neocolonialist rhetoric will continue to manifest whenever a majority culture does not approve of Indigenous customs. Yet, indi- viduals who reside within the United States of America must see themselves as participants in a global world, now more than ever before. The U.S. and its citizens have an obligation to the Indigenous peoples within the United States and its territories who are still expe- riencing the effects of colonization. Neocolonialism and the use of blatant neocolonialist rhetoric further reinforce the wounds of colo- nization and marginalize Indigenous populations through economic, legal, cultural, and political oppression. It is time that neocolonialism is exposed so that Indigenous communities can be freed from colo- nialism in all of its forms, and Indigenous tribal narratives offer one possible defense against neocolonialism in all of its forms.
The National Council for Science and the Environment sponsored a discussion about “Native Americans and the Environment,” which provides a thorough discus- sion of responses to the 1999 Makah whale hunt. The information can be accessed as of July 2008 at the following Web address: http://www.cnie.org/NAE/cases/ makah/index.html.