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Makah
Kwih-dich-chuh-aht (Qʷidiččaʔa·tx̌)
MakahWoman.jpg
A Makah woman, circa 1900
Total population
(1,213)
Regions with significant populations
 United States (Washington)
Languages
English, Makah (survives as a second language)
Related ethnic groups
Nuu-chah-nulth, Ditidaht

The Makah (/məˈkɑː/; Klallam: màq̓áʔa) are an indigenous people living in Washington, in the Pacific Northwest of the continental United States. They are enrolled in the federally recognized Makah Indian Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation.

Linguistically and ethnographically, they are closely related to the Nuu-chah-nulth and Ditidaht peoples of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, who live across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in British Columbia, Canada.

Reservation

The Makah Indian Tribe own the Makah Indian Reservation on the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula; it includes Tatoosh Island. They live 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 refer to themselves as Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx (Qʷidiččaʔa·tx̌) which translates to somewhere near to "the people who live by the rocks and seagulls". Other thought translations include "the people who live on the cape by the seagulls", and "people of the point", as well as several others.

History

Pre-colonial

Archaeological research suggests that the Makah people have inhabited the area now known as Neah Bay for more than 3,800 years. The ancient Makah lived in villages, inhabiting large longhouses made from western red cedar. These longhouses had cedar-plank walls. The planks could be tilted or removed to provide ventilation or light. The cedar tree was of great value to the Makah, who also used its bark to make water-resistant clothing and hats. Cedar roots were used in basket making. Whole trees were carved out to make canoes to hunt seals, gray whales and humpback whales.

The Makah acquired much of their food from the ocean. Their diet consisted of whale, seal, fish, and a wide variety of shellfish. They would also hunt deer, elk, and bear from the surrounding forests. Women also gathered a wide variety of nuts, berries and edible plants and roots for their foods.

Much of what is known about the way of life of the ancient Makah is derived from their oral tradition. Abundant archeological evidence excavated at the Ozette village site (see below) has provided great insight into the lives of the Makah.

Ozette village

In the early 17th century, a mudslide engulfed part of a Makah village near Lake Ozette. The mudslide preserved several houses and their contents in a collapsed state until the 1970s, when they were excavated by Makahs and archaeologists from Washington State University. Over 55,000 artifacts were recovered, representing many activities of the Makah, from whale and seal hunting to salmon and halibut fishing. Artifacts included toys, games, and bows and arrows. The oral history of the Makah mentions a "great slide" which engulfed a portion of Ozette long ago.

Archaeological test pits were excavated at the Ozette site in 1966 and 1967 by Richard Daugherty. However, it was not until 1970 that it became apparent what was buried there. After a storm in February 1970, tidal erosion exposed hundreds of well-preserved wooden artifacts. The excavation of the Ozette site began shortly after. University students worked with the Makah under the direction of archaeologists using pressurized water to remove mud from six buried long houses. The excavation went on for 11 years.

It produced more than 55,000 artifacts, many of which are on display in the Makah Cultural and Research Center. Opened in 1979, the museum displays replicas of cedar long houses as well as whaling, fishing, and sealing canoes.

Japanese castaways in 1834

In 1834, a dismasted, rudderless ship from Japan ran aground near Cape Flattery. The Makah took the three survivors of the broken ship and cared for them, holding them as slaves for several months before taking them to Fort Vancouver. From there, the United States transported them by ship to London and eventually China, before they reached Japan again.

Treaty of Neah Bay

MakahIndians
A Makah settlement, circa 1900.

On January 31, 1855, the select Makah tribe representatives signed the Treaty of Neah Bay with the U.S. federal government, ceding much of their traditional lands. The treaty required the Makah lands to be restricted to the Makah Reservation (at 48°19′20″N 124°37′57″W / 48.32222°N 124.6325°W / 48.32222; -124.6325 in Clallam County) and preserved the Makah people's rights to hunt whales and seals in the region. The Makah language was not used during the negotiation of the treaty, and the government used the Salish name for the tribe. Makah is an incorrect pronunciation of a Salish term meaning "generous with food".

Contemporary culture

In 1936, the Makah Tribe signed the Makah Constitution, accepting the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and establishing an elected tribal government. The constitution provided for a five-member Tribal Council. Each year the council elects a Tribal Chairperson. The Council develops and passes laws for the Makah Reservation.

Tribal census data from 1999 show that the Makah Tribe has 1,214 enrolled members; some 1,079 live on the reservation. The unemployment rate on the reservation is approximately 51%.

The Makah tribe hosts its annual major public gathering, Makah Days, in late August. It features a grand parade and street fair as well as canoe races, traditional games, singing, dancing, feasting, and fireworks.

Many Makah tribal members derive most of their income from fishing. Makah fish for salmon, halibut, Pacific whiting, and other marine fish.

Language

The Makah language is the indigenous language spoken by the Makah people. Makah has been extinct as a first language since 2002, when its last fluent native speaker died. However, it survives as a second language. The Makah tribe is working to revive the language, and has established preschool classes to teach its children. The endonymous name for Makah is qʷi·qʷi·diččaq. The Makah tribe linguistically belongs to the Southern Nootkan branch of the Wakashan family of languages among North American indigenous peoples. The Makah language, also known as qʷi·qʷi·diččaq (qwiqwidicciat) is the only Wakashan language in the United States. Other tribes speaking Wakashan are located in British Columbia, Canada, immediately across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and northwards as far as that province's Central Coast region. The article Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast contains more information on linguistic links.

Literary and cultural references

  • The book Never Trust a White Man by Arlyn Conly is a memoir by a white home economics teacher who worked at the Neah Bay High School in the late 1950s.
  • The final scene of Jim Jarmusch's 1995 film Dead Man takes place in a reconstructed Makah village. Many of the actors featured in the scene are Makah tribal members; dialogue is in the Makah language.
  • The young adult book Ghost Canoe (1998) by Will Hobbs takes place on and near the reservation.
  • The non-fiction book Voices of a Thousand People (2002) by Patricia Peirce Erikson, with Helma Ward & Kirk Wachendorf, recounts the founding of The Makah Cultural and Research Center and the work to preserve their heritage.
  • French writer Frédéric Roux published a novel L'hiver indien (2007) (Indian Winter, éditions Grasset & Fasquelle). It takes place among the Makah People in northwestern Washington and explores the struggle between traditions and modernity.
  • The historical-adventure novel When Wolf Comes (2009) by John Pappas gives a detailed glimpse into the lives of the Makah people of 1801.
  • The children's book (Grades 4-7) Written in Stone (2014) by Rosanne Parry takes place in the 1920s in the Makah tribe. It features an orphan girl who works to preserve her people's culture.
  • The song "The Renegade" by Ian and Sylvia, recounts conflict in the life of the son of a "Makah mother who marries a white man."

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