Don’t Makah Me Paddle

The main attraction in Neah Bay is the museum, the Makah Cultural and Research Center, that houses and displays the artifacts retrieved from the dig at Ozette on Cape Alava. Taking photographs of the artifacts in the museum is prohibited, but they can be seen on the Washington University Libraries website here and here.

The archaeological significance of the Ozette site was first identified in the 1960s by Richard Daughtery who, as a professor at Washington State University, obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation in 1967 to explore the Ozette site. His team dug a 200-foot trench from the high tide mark going inland from which they extracted artifacts including harpoons, whistles, combs, gambling pieces, and carvings that radiocarbon dating placed at 1,600 to 2,000 years old; whale bones were prevalent throughout the excavation. This was the settlement that was buried by a mudslide around 1700.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a storm surge uncovered much of the buried Makah settlement at Ozette a few years later, resulting in the extensive exploration undertaken in the 1970s. The door and facade of the museum are decorated with reproductions of artwork escavated from the site:

The Makah tribe was given its name by others – in their own language, they call themselves, phonetically, Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx (spelled: Qʷidiččaʔa·tx̌), which translates to something like “the people who live on the cape by the seagulls.”

These people had lived as fishermen hunter-gatherers along the northwestern coast of the Olympic Peninsula for millennia before the first non-Indian explorer arrived in 1788. In 1792, the Spanish attempted to establish a fort at Neah Bay (now the site of the best place in town to eat, Calvin’s Crab House), which they soon were forced to abandon.

The Makah relied heavily on whaling, sealing and fishing and the Ozette site, protected by an offshore island and reef and located along a migratory route for whales and fur seals, was well situated for those activities.

According to the American Indian Issues website:

Regular contact with Euro-Americans began in 1844 when several whaling ships came to Neah Bay to facilitate a commerical trade in whale oil.  This effort was so successful that by the 1850s, Makah tribal members were producing as much as 30,000 gallons of whale oil a year for international trade. While no clear record exists of the Makah population in the 1850s, oral and archaeological evidence indicates that in 1852, a smallpox epidemic drastically reduced the Makah population and caused the abandonment of several of its ancient villages. Thus it was on January 31, 1855, that the Makah, weakened by disease and eager to safeguard their traditional whaling activities as well as their growing international whaling oil trade, signed the Treaty of Neah Bay. In the Treaty, the Makah ceded 300,000 acres of their tribal lands to the United States in order to retain their right to hunt whales.

The Treaty of 1855 made no provision for the village of Ozette. A Presidential Executive Order established the Makah Reservation in 1893, but the 64 Makahs then living at Ozette refused to move to Neah Bay. Ultimately, attrition took its course and the last Makah to survive ultimately moved to Neah Bay in 1917 and the village was abandoned.

Although I couldn’t take photos of the artifacts, I was able to photograph this model of the village of Ozette as it is supposed to have looked prior to 1700.

The Makah were and still are a sea-going people. They traditionally made their canoes from single cedar logs, hollowing them out and shaping them in the forest where they were felled, then dragging them to the shore where bow and stern pieces were affixed, together with seats and cross-braces.

The canoes were made in several sizes according to their use: the whaling canoe, up to 30 feet long, carried a crew of eight men (background in photo, below); the sealing canoe, 25 feet long, carried a crew of two (foreground); and, a smaller canoe that could be single-handed was used for fishing and navigating the rivers.

According to a placard at the museum,

The whaling industry came to an end for the Makahs during the 1920s. Seal hunting ended during the 1930s and new technology replaced the old fishing techniques in the 1940s.

Fishing is still the main livelihood, but I was told that the young people aren’t interested in it and many leave the Reservation for opportunities elsewhere.

We ultimately went back to the RV, hooked up the Jeep, and pulled along the waterfront for lunch before heading for our next destination, LaPush, where we checked in to a beachfront site at Quileute Ocean Resort located on “First Beach” in the Quileute Indian Reservation. Our motorhome can just be made out on the left in the photo, below:

There were several people surfing here at First Beach, so we walked down to watch the action for a bit (the surfers were too far offshore to photograph well).

A giant log had washed up on the beach, it must have been 100 feet long.

Like Neah Bay, there’s not much in the town of LaPush, other than the campground and resort and a restaurant near the marina at the mouth of the Quillayutte River, overlooking Little James Island. Our waitress said that the coastal tribes gather here periodically in their canoes, and right on cue, one came paddling by.

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