In 1995, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had a dilemma. Our loyalty to the whales was to be tested when we took a stand in defense of the California Gray Whale and opposed the proposal by the Makah Tribal Counsel of Washington State to kill five whales each year, to revive the traditional Makah whaling culture. The Makah had not killed a whale for nearly a century and they did not meet the International Whaling Commission rules governing aboriginal whaling, specifically the criteria of nutritional necessity and unbroken tradition.
We refused to discriminate and allow the Makah a free pass to kill whales. We felt it would be racist of us to turn a blind eye on the Makah as we fought whaling by the Japanese, Faeroese, Icelanders, and Norwegians. We also knew that taking a non-discriminatory position would cause us to be accused of racism for daring to confront an American Indian tribe over the killing of whales.
It was a tough decision, but as an organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of whales, we had no choice. We had to defend the whales. This task was made easier for us when we gained the support of some of the Elders of the Makah who saw this move to revive whaling as disingenuous. The most outspoken and most courageous of these Elders was Alberta “Binki” Thompson.
I remember her telling me that this was not about Makah culture, it was simply about a small group of young Makah wanting to kill whales and that it was instigated by the Japanese Whaling Industry. The initial plan was to set up a commercial operation to supply whale meat to Japan. The commercial plans were quickly shot down, but the Makah Tribal Council decided to go ahead with reviving whaling. The Federal government provided money to train and support the Makah including funding representatives of the International Whaling Commission to present their case for whaling. Also attending the IWC meetings in 1997 in Monaco were Makah Elders Jesse Ides, Dottie Chamblin, and Alberta Thompson. They were there to defend the whales, not whaling.
“Binki” as we all affectionately called Alberta was vilified and scorned by some of her own people for opposing the whalers, but she stood her ground. She was the foundation upon which all the efforts of conservationists and animal rights activists stood upon as we patrolled the waters off Neah Bay for months on end- and she was solid. She never wavered in her support for the whales and those who defended the whales. “Yes, my people once killed whales and yes the whale is important to us.” She once told me. “But now it’s time to repay the whales for what they gave to us in the past, now is the time to protect them, not to kill them. The whale was once the salvation of the Makah. We now need to be the salvation of the whale.”
In the end, one whale died, a baby Gray that fell to the .50 caliber rifle of Wayne Johnson. The same man illegally killed another whale a decade later, a crime for which he was arrested and convicted. The final result of Alberta Thompson’s courageous stand was that the tradition of killing whales was not revived and the whales today have no fear of approaching the Makah community of Neah Bay.
Binki had saved her whales!
All of us who had the pleasure and the privilege of knowing her and working with her loved her dearly and thus we were saddened to hear that she died on April 11th, 2012 at the age of 88.
A Funeral will be held at 1:00 p.m. Monday, April 16, 2012 at The Neah Bay Assembly of God Church. Viewing will begin at Noon. Burial follows at Neah Bay Cemetery.
Neah Bay is not the easiest place in the world to reach so for those who would like to post a message of condolence please sign the guestbook at Drennan & Ford Funeral Home and Crematory in Port Angeles. Her family needs to know just how much Alberta did for the whales and that she has been recognized internationally for her courageous contribution to the successful effort of stopping the revival of whaling in the continental United States.