Members of the Makah Tribe traveled nearly 3,000 miles to the far eastern
Russian region of Chukotka to thank its people for a gift that enabled the
tribe to harvest a single gray whale in 1999.
The indigenous Chukotka people gave the Makah a share of its annual gray
whale quota during the International Whaling Commission's 1997 meeting. "It
was just an amazing thing they did for us," said Ben Johnson, Makah tribal
On Sept. 12, a delegation of 14 Makah tribal members said "thank you" in
person during a week-long stay in the Anadyr, the remote capitol city of
Chukotka. The two tribes are exchanging cultural visits to strengthen their
relationship. Most recently, the Chukotka Native dance troupe Ergyron
visited Neah Bay in 2004. A group of traditional marine mammal hunters has
visited in the past.
"I have no idea what to expect, but it should be fun and interesting," said
Arnie Hunter, a past vice president of the Makah Whaling Commission, prior
to the trip. Hunter has met some of the whaling captains in Alaska during a
conference for Native hunters, but has never traveled to Russia.
Anadyr is located directly west across the Bering Sea from Nome, Alaska and
is home to 12,000 people. The region's population declined dramatically in
the last two decades from a high of 160,000 to 70,000. High-paying
government jobs evaporated following the collapse of the Soviet Union and
non-Native Russians left to seek employment elsewhere. Poverty and hunger
are common. Much of Chukotka is located in the Arctic Circle. There were
fewer than five hours of daylight during the Makah visit.
Roman Abramovich, one of the world's richest men, is the new governor of
Chukotka. He has brought positive change to the region and has
enthusiastically supported the relationship between Chukotka and the Makah
Tribe, including flying the Ergyron dance troupe to Seattle on his private
"I think our relationship is a part of their desire to reach out to other
Native cultures and cement those relationships in the U.S. and around the
world," said Micah McCarty, Makah tribal councilman. "They are coming out
of a period of isolation following the Cold War and now they have more
opportunities to reach out. Their governor has been very supportive of our
Arnie Hunter planned to leave a hand-crafted thank you. "They were really
admiring our drums when they visited. I'm going to use a drum I just made
during our singing and dancing, and then leave it as a gift." Other gifts,
such as Makah Whaling Commission jackets, were also presented.
The trip was made possible by contributions from the Tulalip and Suquamish
tribes. "We couldn't have done this without those donations and we are
grateful," said McCarty.