Makah whalers plead not guilty to tribal charges

Whalers plead not guilty to tribal charges

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
Dec 12, 2007

NEAH BAY – The five members of the Makah tribe accused of illegally killing a whale will go to trial in tribal court Jan. 22.

They also face trial March 18 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The five – Frankie Gonzales, Wayne Johnson, Andrew Noel, Parker and William Secor Sr., all of Neah Bay – each pleaded not guilty to three counts in tribal court on Tuesday.

They are free without bail pending both trials.

All the charges stem from the Sept. 8 shooting of a gray whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sail Rock east of Neah Bay.

The whale sank and never resurfaced, but the tribe’s marine mammal biologist says it probably died of internal bleeding from gunshot wounds.

In tribal court, the charges are:

– Violating the tribe’s Gray Whale Management Plan.

– Violations of state and federal laws.

– Reckless endangerment. The hunters fired high-powered rifles over water at the whale.

The tribal charges carry a combined maximum penalty of one year in the tribe’s jail in Neah Bay and a $5,000 fine.

The tribal court also has the power to suspend the defendants’ treaty rights for up to three years.

The federal charges, all misdemeanors, allege two violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act:

– Conspiracy to hunt a whale.

– Harassing and killing the whale.

A third count alleges whaling in violation of the federal Whaling Convention Act.

Each count carries a maximum fine of $100,000, a one-year prison term and a year of parole.

The Makah Tribal Council announced the day after the hunt that it intended to prosecute the five.

The tribal charges were filed on Nov. 23.

One consequence of the killing is the further delay of an environmental impact statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service that enforces the marine mammal act.

The statement is necessary if the fisheries service is to grant the Makah’s request to resume whaling, a right granted them in the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay.

The last legal hunt was in May 1999, when the Makah killed one gray whale after the whales were removed from the list of endangered species.

The tribe had ceased whaling in the 1920s after non-native commercial hunters nearly extirpated gray whales in the Pacific Ocean.

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