[NOTE: Jim Page has granted the LSA permission to carry his advice re Paul Watson of the Sea Shepards, here.]
In a newspaper story about the Makah whaling a while ago a spokesperson for the Sea Shepherd was quoted as saying, "We met a friendly gray whale named Buddy." I had to wonder, did the whale come along side the boat and introduce itself? "Hi, my name is Buddy. Won't you be my neighbor?" My mind reeled, seeing pictures of reality, unreality and Captain Paul Watson. Let me explain.
When I met Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, several years ago, he told me that when he went out on his campaigns he would bring his favorite music - Phil Ochs and me. I didn't know whether to be flattered or not because I didn't know anything about him or his activities. Watching him speak that night I was impressed by his strength and commitment. A friend of mine, however, pointed out that his stand against the Japanese whaling industry seemed to be a stand against the Japanese people themselves. I let it slide. I wished him well as he sailed away several days later.
Some years past, and when Watson was in danger of being convicted on massive charges and facing extended prison time for his high seas activities, Lisa Distifano, his soul mate and activist partner, wrote a piece for the Sea Shepherd Journal called "In Defense Of A Patriot." In it she described Paul's ancestors arriving on the northeast coast of this continent and encountering beautiful old growth forests, clear running waters and magnificent wild animals. No humans were mentioned. Several paragraphs later she explained how Paul was like her great uncle who was a pirate in Louisiana Territory, a strong individualist and one of a small number of brave and forward thinking men who had the vision to fight alongside Andrew Jackson against the French, and that if it wasn't for men like these we wouldn't have this "great country of ours." Andrew Jackson, you will remember, was the chief architect of the Trail Of Tears, a man who claimed that he "never met an Indian I didn't kill and never killed an Indian I didn't scalp." And now, a hundred and some odd years later, Watson and company are in the waters off Neah Bay promising to disrupt the Makah people should they attempt to kill a gray whale. All conservation rhetoric aside, you must see a pattern emerging.
Paul Watson is a strange guy. He was an original member of Greenpeace, splitting off after finding them to be too "liberal" for his tastes. He was more into direct action. He has also been associated with Earth First!, that wonderful, necessary and sometimes confusing hands-on environmental movement. I have come to know members of EF! over the years and have great respect for their bravery and commitment. Controversy and argument has been rife in the ranks since their inception. One such argument has been over the issue of tree spiking. Judy Bari, one of the greater thinkers of EF! who was crippled in an FBI-linked car bombing, was arguing against the practice on the grounds that it was largely ineffective and ignored the issue of class struggle - further endangering the workers who were already endangered by management. Watson, in favor of tree spiking, made the incredible statement that "I have thought about class and it's bullshit." (Margaret Thatcher once said that "class is the invention of the Socialists." That's like saying "the solar system is the invention of the astronomers.")
Why am I bringing up all this stuff? There is a real difference between a multi-national whaling concern and a tribal people living on the coast of Washington. Their situations, history and access to power are not the same. How many whales will the Makah kill? Their legal limit is five. How many whales would the big companies kill? Their legal limit is however many they can get away with. There is already a great deal of tension between the white environmentalists and the native populations. This Sea Shepherd activity will only make it worse. Paul should know this. If he is so concerned that the Makah hunt will open the door for further exploitation - certainly a danger - then he should watch for that event and go into action against those forces when they appear. To harass a small nation of Indians is completely missing the point. The problem is not just "humans' but human societies with all of their complex layers.
Sooner or later we're going to have to get real and admit our history and condition. There is a difference between the employee and the company. And there is a difference between the conqueror population and the indigenous. If we don't address these issues we will just continue to perpetrate institutional inequality.
A few days ago Watson yelled at the natives, "Just because you were born stupid doesn't give you any right to be stupid!" I think the echoes of that ridiculous and arrogant sentiment just came back to throw Lisa into the water and confiscate their inflatable. There is some justice after all. I say that the Makah have a right to their cultural practice. Their history demands it. And our history demands that we let them.