Tag Archives: Makah


Friday, March 25

An angry, restive crowd milled around the parking lot and a temporary bandstand. There were beads and feathers, plaids and overalls, and placards for every side—Native America treaty rights, animal rights, states rights, and every American’s inherent right to make a fool of themselves in public.

The Makah’s decision to go whaling again had become international news. There were photographers and camera crews and reporters interviewing people on the street. Several TV network affiliates had vans with microwave antennas.

The crowd surged and roiled like tide rips in Deception Pass. Someone shouted a racial slur, someone threw a punch. It was a scaled version of the scene he had left in the classroom with added riot police.

A big man climbed onto the stage and thumped the microphone. The sound of electronic feedback made Rathskill cringe.

“This thing on?” the big man said. “You folks hear me?” He was wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tie loosened around his neck. Nice touch, Rathskill thought. Man of the people. A working man despite the 200-thread count Egyptian cotton shirt and $150 silk tie. Rathskill recognized Big Bob Reingold.

Big Bob raised his hands. “I won’t keep you long.” A groundswell of approval rippled through the crowd. “I know you’ve come to hear Captain Osgood. I’ll introduce him in a moment but I wanted to take the opportunity to remind you. We may have different opinions but we’re a community of civilized people.” He looked at a knot of Klallam and Makah that were standing to one side of the bandstand. “Some more civilized than others.” A few people snickered. The Klallam and Makah remained impassive.

“Sure, we’ve had hard times. Money’s tight, jobs are scarce, but Port Angeles is moving into a future of prosperity. Even if we have to drag some people kicking and screaming.” He looked again at the Klallam and Makah.

“And the future is…tourism.” Big Bob hit the last word hard. The feedback screeched. “That’s right. People who come to see the Olympic National Park and the rain forest and whales. People who pay our salaries, our dentist bills, our kid’s college tuition. Tourists are the perfect resource. Clean, renewable, and they go away once they’ve spent their money. So, I want you to listen to what Captain Osgood has to say not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the profitable thing to do.”

Big Bob left the stage to scattered applause and catcalls.

A man with thick white hair, fashionably mussed, and a white beard took the stage. He was wearing a blue serge jacket with four gold bands on the sleeve, a captain’s rank. He was shorter than Rathskill expected from the Sea Defender’s promotion photos. Osgood was head of the radical conservationist organization accused of sabotage by some countries. He wasn’t legally a captain, he just looked like one. He also looked like he owned the crowd.

“Some of you know me from the years I’ve spent at sea defending the defenseless—whales and dolphin and baby seals. Some of you don’t know me at all. Personally, I’m unimportant. What’s important is creating a world where all species, not just human beings, have rights.”

“Not all people are human,” someone in the crowd shouted. “Just look at the Makah.” There was widespread laughter.

Osgood raised his hand to quiet the crowd. “I know there’s a lot of passionate opposition to Makah whaling but we should remember, passion isn’t hate. Hell, I’ve placed myself in harm’s way more times than I can remember to prevent the Japanese and Norwegians and Portuguese from killing whales but I don’t hate the Japanese or the Norwegians or the Portuguese. And I don’t hate the Makah. I stand with Native Americans. I stood with them at Wounded Knee. I bled with them at Wounded Knee.”

“My father was at Wounded Knee,” a middle-aged man shouted at Osgood. “If you were there, he said you were well hidden.”

Osgood shook his head slowly as if wearied by the pettiness of people who disagreed with him. “I have complete sympathy for the Makah, those members of the tribe who are sincerely looking for a better way for their tribe. The tribe isn’t unified in their opinion of whaling. Many recognize it is the barbaric practice of an earlier age. We’ve evolved since then. Society has evolved. It’s time the Makah evolve.”

“What about the Treaty of Neah Bay?” Rathskill recognized McCarty, one of the tribal police who manned the roadblock when Detective Vanoy drove him to the reservation. McCarty was dressed in mufti. “We are a sovereign nation. The treaty granted us the right to hunt whales where we’ve always hunted. You took our land, then you broke your word.”

Rathskill had heard the arguments before. Each side was deeply entrenched and digging deeper. It never ended well. He began working his way back toward Cock-a-doodle Donuts.

On the edge of the crowd a man danced, his body and face painted white, a band of black across his eyes, wearing only buckskin pants, leather moccasins, and a raven. The stuffed raven sat on his head, looking in the direction he had come, its wings outstretched as if ready to take flight, its tail feathers draped over the man’s face, obscuring his eyes. He was dancing backward in a circle, singing to himself in an incomprehensible language, a tomahawk in one hand, a bone flute in the other. The tomahawk was turned toward the dancer.

“Heyoka,” Rathskill said aloud. The ceremonial fools of the Plains Indians, the contrarians, the holy clowns. Rathskill had read about the Heyoka but never seen one in the wild.

A policeman dressed in riot gear—body armor, helmet, and plastic face guard—pushed through the crowd. He was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun in port arms. “Drop the weapon,” he shouted at the Heyoka.

The Heyoka turned to look at the officer, dropped the bone flute on the ground, and raised the tomahawk above his head.

“Stay where you are and drop the weapon,” the cop shouted louder and lowered the shotgun into firing position. “Do it now.”

The Heyoka were contrarians. Their societal role required them to behave opposite of what was expected, to do the opposite of what was asked. A Heyoka warrior ordered to retreat would charge into battle alone, regardless of the risk.

The Heyoka stepped forward. The cop worked the slide of the shotgun and chambered a round. Rathskill was certain the cop knew nothing about the Heyoka or the culture of the Plains Indians. He stepped between them.

“You don’t understand,” Rathskill said.

“Get the hell out of the way,” the cop shouted.

The space around them widened as the crowd backed away.

Rathskill could see the cop’s jaw clenched even through the protective faceplate. The man’s nametag was covered with black electrician’s tape. “He’s not going to hurt you.”

“How the hell do you know what he’s not going to do?”

The cop shoved the butt of his shotgun into Rathskill’s chest, forcing him backward. He lost his balance and fell into the Heyoka. Together they collapsed in a tangle of limbs.

The cop towered above him, the shotgun still aimed at his chest. “Stay down,” the cop ordered. Rathskill could feel the Heyoka beneath him struggling to get up. “Stand up,” Rathskill told the Heyoka. “Get on your feet.” The Heyoka went limp.

“I told you to stay down,” the cop shouted. He put his boot on Rathskill’s chest. There was spittle flecked across the inside of his faceplate. “You move again and I’ll turn you into a greasy stain on the asphalt.”

The Heyoka began singing a song. Rathskill guessed it was his death song. He thought it was Lakota.

“Shut up and turn over,” the cop shouted. More spittle splashed his faceplate. “Now!”

“Sing,” Rathskill told the Heyoka. “Sing as loud as you can. And don’t turn on your belly. A warrior never turns his back on the enemy.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” the cop shouted.

The Heyoka fell silent. Rathskill felt him rolling over beneath him. “At least one of us is,” Rathskill muttered. “Probably more.”

The cop called for backup. They tied their hands behind their backs with plastic wire ties and shipped them to the Port Angeles Police Station in a black van. He was being processed in the police bullpen when he heard a familiar voice.

“Dr. Simon Rathskill.” Rathskill turned to face Detective Vanoy. “Why am I not surprised?”


In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Sturm und Drang

Friday, March 25

Rathskill carried a stool onto the lecture hall dais. He felt old and bent as if the accumulating years had a weight that pressed him to the ground. The gravity of old age, he thought bitterly, and braced himself with a foot on the stool’s cross piece.

The old shaman in the deerskin cape was in class again, sitting in the back row looking indistinct like a character not fully realized. Rathskill still had no clue to the old man’s metaphoric meaning. What was the point?

He still had no idea what had happened to him in the two days missing after the Apocalypto Motel. Those two days might as well be a road sign warning “Surrender all hope, ye who enter here.” He had left that sign far behind.

He felt control of his life slipping from cramped fingers. Soon, he suspected, his behavior would become more erratic, more obvious. People would notice. Eventually, he would have difficulty distinguishing what he alone saw or heard or smelled. Eventually, he would be the only rational person in a world no one else inhabited.

They’d lock him up again. For your own good, they’d assure him. Until you’re well, they’d promise, but never let him out again. He could expect to spend the rest of his life in pajamas without buttons.

Rathskill took a deep breath. “Please take your seats. Heads up, phones down.

“The other day we discussed the collapse of the community at Tse-whit-zen. Today we’re talking about cultures in conflict.”

The lights dimmed. The first slide was a monochrome photo taken from the middle of a dugout canoe. In the bow of the canoe the harpooner was poised, his torso naked, his right arm drawn back and tensed, the harpoon raised above his head for the thrust. Behind him, another man tended a line coiled in a wicker basket. The photographer was the third man in the canoe.

The whale’s blowhole was twenty feet ahead. The whale’s head was pushing a bow wave through the water. Foam flecked the surface.

There was a feeling of immediacy about the photo. The wake thrown by the whale, the dappled surface of the water flowing across its back, the men in the canoe, slightly blurred by motion, captured in the moment before the whale felt the wound, before it raised its flukes to dive deep and flee, before the harpoon line began to unreel from the basket. Or the moment before the whale’s flukes crushed the canoe and spilled the men into bitterly cold water they could survive only minutes.

The whale was so close the Makah could reach out and touch it, feel the scars left by orca attacks and the whale lice attached to the skin. They could hear the rush of air from the whale’s blowhole and smell the stink of bottom mud, crustaceans, and krill.

“The photo was taken by Asahel Curtis around 1930,” Rathskill said. “Asahel was the lesser known brother of Edward S. Curtis.

“It’s a remarkable photo. It gives you a sense of the physical intimacy that exists between predator and prey. There were no steel ships or bomb lances. No stockyards or processing plants. These men touched the life they took.

“For the Makah and other Coastal Salish people, the sea was their homeland,” Rathskill said, waving his hand toward the photograph on the screen. “Whaling was their identity. It defined who they were. It anchored their culture. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Makah have the right, guaranteed by treaty, to hunt whales off the coast of Cape Flattery. The Makah tribe is preparing to renew whaling. Their decision has been controversial. Many people now consider whaling barbaric, unconscionable, immoral. Which is right?”

“How can you justify taking the life of an intelligent species?” Avila Torres said. Avila was a bright Latina woman who usually sat at the edge of the class.

“Pigs are intelligent,” Martin Broadcutt said. “Does that mean we can’t eat bacon?” Laughter rippled through the room.

“How can you compare the intelligence of a whale to a pig?” Avila Torres said.

“Exactly,” Rathskill said. “We don’t even know how to measure human intelligence, much less another species. I don’t think intelligence will help us make this moral decision.”

“Even if we don’t know how to measure it, shouldn’t we give whales the benefit of a doubt?” she said. “We don’t need to eat them.”

“But to Mr. Broadcutt’s point, shouldn’t we extend the same benefit to pigs?” Rathskill said.

“When pigs fly,” Martin Broadcutt said. There was more laughter.

“It’s murder,” Avila Torres said.

“Technically,” Rathskill said, “murder is defined as killing another human being. At most, the law might judge it animal cruelty.”

“So, what makes us better than them?” she said.

Rathskill stood up from his stool and leaned forward. “That, Ms. Torres, is a profound question. What makes us better? What makes us different?”

“You’re not suggesting that whales are just as important as humans?” Martin Broadcutt said. “Or pigs?”

“Life feeds upon life, Mr. Broadcutt,” Rathskill said. “That’s a simple, inescapable truth. Life feeds upon life but with each death, a debt is incurred. Eventually, the debt comes due and predator becomes prey. Death makes us all equal. That’s a lesson the Makah knew intimately.”

“God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply,” Lydia Hempton said. “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you. Genesis 9:3.”

There were groans and a few catcalls from the class.

“It’s survival of the fittest,” Martin Broadcutt said. “The strong survive, the rest don’t. If whales are so fit, how come they’re almost extinct?”

Avila Torres got out of her seat and called Martin Broadcutt a chauvinistic creep. Broadcutt called her a tree hugger. The noise rose like storm surf against sea cliffs as everyone shouted their opinions, their passionate beliefs and entrenched prejudice and the hackneyed wisdom passed down from their parents.

In the back of the class, the shaman’s image became grainy and flickered, then faded to electronic snow like an old black and white television screen. Rathskill waited five minutes. The noise didn’t abate. He picked up his stool and walked out of the classroom. No one seemed to notice.

He returned to his office and collected his leather jacket and helmet. He was scheduled for office hours but left without even a note on the door. It was too much effort.

Time was everything. He was running out of it. Was it time to walk out onto the ice and expose himself to the cold mercy like an old Inuit? Wait too long and he’d lose the freedom to decide.

He needed to know what he didn’t. Blavatsky had said his memories might heal. He was sufficiently desperate to try any tomfoolery a second time. He started the Indian Chief and pointed it toward Shantytown.

He ran into traffic on the waterfront near the Black Ball Ferry docks. A cop was directing traffic at the intersection where the lights in every direction were flashing red. “What’s going on?” Rathskill asked him.

“Sea Defenders giving a press conference,” he said, his arms waving. “Indians are protesting.” A car failed to yield. The cop made an angry face and emphatically gestured for them to stop. “It’s a cluster, if you ask me.” He blew his whistle and changed the direction of traffic. “Move along. Light’s green.”

Rathskill parked the Chief behind Cock-a-doodle Donuts’ dumpster and worked his way into the crowd gathered at the ferry parking lot. At the dock in front of Downriggers on the Water, a big banner was draped over the side of a ship: Whaling kills tourism.

Crazy Elmo occupied the corner of Railroad Avenue. He was dressed in an orange Elmo suit and standing on a milk crate beside a cardboard sign. “Crazy Elmo photos—$5, autographs—$3, punch your lights out—free with a release form.”

He was shaking an orange fist at the sky. “You think that’s natural?” he shouted. “Harmless water vapor?” The silver contrails of passenger jets streaked the sky. “That’s climate change, courtesy of the U.S. government. Raise the oceans, turn fields into dust, and plant tornadoes. You never heard of HAARP?”

A Japanese couple laden with shopping bags and selfie sticks stopped to listen, thinking it a photo opportunity, but hurried away when Elmo pointed at them and shouted, “Too many people. Too many mouths to feed. Too many hands grabbing for what little’s left. They’ve weaponized the climate. They’re culling the herd. First the poor bastards in Nigeria and Bangladesh, people so far away you can’t hear them scream, and then it comes to a supermarket near you.”

Rathskill paused to listen to the rant. It was a mistake.

“You think I’m crazy?” Elmo said, pointing at Rathskill with an orange mitt. “You think it can’t be true? No one would kill millions of people to make a buck?” Elmo shook his head and seemed to deflate slightly. “All human suffering is someone’s business model.”


In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Killing Canoes

The Makah are people who live close to the sea. For over 2,000 years they hunted grey whales off the unforgiving coast of Cape Flattery until the whales were hunted near extinction by other men whose only wisdom was greed. It was a dangerous occupation. Boats could be stove in by a whale’s flukes, capsize or break apart in heavy weather. Entire crews could be lost and villages devastated. Two millennium of seamanship taught the Makah that their boats were more than tools—they were sentient, capable of loyalty or betrayal, and accountable. A boat that betrayed its crew to their death and survived itself was traditionally burned. One boat, however, was spared.

Continue reading Killing Canoes