Information about the Makah

The Makah are a group of Native American peoples from the most northwestern corner of the United States in the State of Washington. The Makah tribe lives in and around the town of Neah Bay, Washington, a small fishing village along the Strait of Juan de Fuca where it meets the Pacific Ocean.

The Makah people signed a treaty with the U.S. federal government in January 1855 and settled on their current tribal lands.

Way of Life

There is much known about the way of life of the ancient Makah. Like 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. In the early 1700s 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 centuries. While excavating the Ozette dig, remains of people were found in their beds with the tools they used every day laying close by.

A Makah settlement.Unlike the plains Indians, coastal Indians had no need for horses or teepees or other means of mobility enabling them to follow herds. 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.

The Makah Museum in Neah Bay, Washington houses the 60,000 or so artifacts from the Ozette dig and is considered the nation's finest tribal museum. It is an excellent venue to learn their culture. For example, the Makah had an ingenious way of boiling water. They had no metal working technologies and no metal pots, they couldn't simply set a cedar basket on a fire and wait for the water 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 believed to be the first humans ever to 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 impressive indeed. 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 the head. Now that the whale as injured and angry 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.

In 1999 the Makah revived their traditional whale hunt, killing one gray whale despite opposition from environmental groups.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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