The Makah are the indigenous people of the most northwestern corner of the United States, on the Olympic Peninsula in the State of Washington. The Makah Indian Reservation extends in an area around Neah Bay, Washington, a small fishing village along the Strait of Juan de Fuca where it meets the Pacific Ocean.
There is much known about the way of life of the ancient Makah. As with most other Native American cultures there is an abundance of oral tradition. But unlike others, there is also an abundance of archeological evidence of how these people lived their lives. Nearly 500 years ago a mudslide completely engulfed a Makah village near Lake Ozette. The mudslide came suddenly in the night and took most unaware, preserving an entire village for half a millennium. While excavating the Ozette dig, remains of people were found still in their beds with the tools they used every day laying close by.
Unlike the plains Indians, costal Indians had no need for horses or teepees (and other means of mobility enabling them to follow herds) in their cultures. The ancient Makah lived in cedar long houses and inhabited villages. They used dug-out cedar canoes for transportation. There was a good supply of food and they only need to venture out into the waves to get it. They ate whale, seal, orca, otter, salmon, shell fish and lots of other foods from the sea as well as from the nearby forests.
Although I am white (what ever that means) I grew up very close to the Makah Indian Reservation and frequently attended their annual week long festival, Makah Days. I also frequented the Makah Museum, which houses the 60,000 or so artifacts from the Ozette dig. Consequently I learned quite a bit about their culture. For one, the Makah had an ingenious way of boiling water. They had no metal working technologies and with no medal pots they couldn't just set a cedar basket on a fire and wait for it to boil. They placed rocks in a hot fire and when they were almost red hot, they would pick them out of the fire with sticks and drop them into the basket. Other Technologies they possessed were tailoring, tanning, wood working, bone working, and are thought to be the first humans ever to be able to take down a whale. They are one of two Native American tribes that ever hunted whales frequently, the other being their Canadian cousins, the Nuuchahnulth, who lived across the strait on Vancouver Island.
The Makah stories of ancient whale hunting are just nuts. Three or four canoes, seating six to eight, would row out into the Pacific Ocean. They would watch for a whale to breach then chase after it. Once they had caught up with the whale, the hunters would throw primitive harpoons with a sharpened sea shell as its head. Now that the whale as injured (and pissed to say the least), they would jump into the ocean with it, in order to secure floats, made from seal skins, so the whale could not dive to the bottom or sink once it was dead. When they had secured the whale, they had to row back to their bay dragging the whale behind them.
Although I support the Makah's legal and cultural rights to hunt whales, when I first heard they were going to start hunting again (in 1995) for cultural reasons this is what I thought they were going to do. My reaction was, "Right on! Put that shit on ESPN". However, they now use more modern techniques for whaling, such as motor boats and a .50 cal. harpoon.
To read more about the Makah whale hunting here are two good sites: