Makah past points to tribe's future of justice, health
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Makah Tribal Chairman Micah McCarty speaks at a Prevention Works! meeting at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. -- Photo by Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

By Jim Casey
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY -- The Makah tribe is working hard to restore its culture -- and restorative justice along with it, the tribal chairman says.

Restorative justice means that a wrongdoer, a thief for instance, must square accounts with his or her victim.

The practice once was common to many cultures, Native Americans included, Makah Tribal Chairman Micah McCarty said this week.

It eroded in European cultures when feudal lords said fines must be paid to them, he said.

McCarty addressed a meeting of Prevention Works!, the nonprofit coalition that combats child neglect and abuse and domestic violence.

The Makah and other tribes lost restorative justice when the U.S. government ordered them to adopt a federal-style legal system, he said.

As a self-governing tribe, however, the tribe is working to renew some social practices they lost in the mid-19th century.

"We have a traditional system of taking part of our people," McCarty said.

"Enforcement is only part of the battle.

"We haven't been doing enough to provide the restorative systems as resources for the tribal judge to use."

Painting, carving, healing

The European-style system uses imprisonment as a punishment, which restores neither victim nor wrongdoer, he said.

"It's not getting to the roots of the causes," McCarty said, so the tribe is turning to more holistic approaches.

That's not always easy either.

Beds in residential centers for alcoholism or drug addiction are available for only one in three people who request them, he said.

Still, treatment can take other routes, he added.

McCarty, a recognized artist, once was hired under a cultural intervention grant in which he taught participants to carve and paint.

"You have alternatives to what people would do with idle time on their hands," he said.

"Without some kind of structure, some people are lost."

'Smallpox holocaust'

The tribe also is planning a community center that would offer athletics along with cultural activities.

Reviving a culture requires looking back to a point before smallpox killed 70 percent of the Makah in what McCarty called a holocaust.

Its numbers ravaged, the tribe ceded its land, abandoned its language and folkways, and stood by while its children were forcibly taken from the reservation and sent to boarding schools, he said.

Whole generations were taught to be ashamed of being Indians, he said.

"Those aren't excuses for why we have challenges," McCarty said, but they have contributed to what he called "a wounded narcissism and an entitlement mentality" in some people.

For some families, that has translated into children learning drug abuse and alcoholism from their parents, he said.

To fight back, the tribe hopes to hire a psychiatrist and two psychologists to diagnose brain disorders and addictions, following up with medications and counseling for a 12- to 18-month period.

Canoe journey in 2010

Education would be an element too.

"Kids aren't leaning traditions, treaty law, treaty rights if they're out drinking and doping," McCarty said.

"It's not enough to preserve your songs and dances, without preservation of your treaty rights," he said.

The various paths may lead to a pinnacle in the summer of 2010 when the Makah host the annual Intertribal Canoe Journey.

Thousands of members of Washington state's coastal, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound tribes, plus Canadian western maritime First Nations, will gather for a week in Neah Bay.

The event will be both a showcase and celebration of tribal cultures, during which participants pledge not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

"The more purpose you have, the more purpose you assume," McCarty said of attitudes the canoe journey will reinforce.

"You take that responsibility to take care of yourself -- and take care of your kids."


Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at jim.casey@

Last modified: December 11. 2008 4:50AM
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