Walter McQuillen, hereditary chief of the Waatch Village of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, will share the story of “how we are related to the whales” at the Maritime Center this Friday in Port Townsend. (Marla Tolliver)

Walter McQuillen, hereditary chief of the Waatch Village of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, will share the story of “how we are related to the whales” at the Maritime Center this Friday in Port Townsend. (Marla Tolliver)

Makah chief to share tribal tradition

‘How we are Related to the Whales’ takes place in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — A chief of the Waatch Village of the Makah Tribe will tell the story of how his family is related to the gray whale and the importance of the whaling tradition for his people at 7 p.m. Friday.

Hereditary chief and life-long Port Townsend resident Walter McQuillen, 57, will share the traditional oral story, “How we are Related to the Whales” at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.

Entry is free, but monetary and non-perishable food donations will be accepted for the Port Townsend Food Bank, McQuillen said.

The presentation will start with a paddle song sung by the members of the McQuillen family. McQuillen predicts the event will be over by 8:30 p.m. Snacks, coffee and tea will be available.

The event is being put on by the Production Alliance with the support of the maritime center and the Jefferson County Historical Society.

This is the second time that McQuillen will pass along this story in a large public setting. He has told the tale, learned from his grandfather, privately to friends and family numerous times.

“My favorite part is knowing I’m doing what I was taught to do,” McQuillen said. “As head of my family, I was taught to stand up and do this sort of thing; to lead our family.”

The story talks about how his family married into the whales and then years later offered to “help feed us,” McQuillen said.

The Makah tribe has applied for the waiver under rights granted in the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay for a ceremonial and subsistence harvest of gray whales. A public comment period is now in effect after hearing in November.

In its April 4 decision, NOAA had recommended approval to kill three whales in even-year hunts and one whale in odd-year hunts beginning in 2020 and lasting 10 years — a maximum average of 1.6 whales a year.

“I’m nervous that [the public] might misunderstand what I’m trying to do,” McQuillen said. “I’m just trying to explain to the people who weren’t brought up in my culture, in my family, I’m trying to show them that there is more to this whaling issue than just killing the whales.

“It’s part of our family, it’s who we are, we’re related to the whales,” he continued.

“I just ask that people come with an open mind and heart.”

The last time McQuillen publicly told this story was at the 2019 Chautauqua Vaudeville Extravaganza Weekend, he said, adding it was before about 75 people.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].

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