AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM AND CROSS-CULTURAL CONFLICT: AN EXAMINATION OF THE MAKAH NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE’S STRUGGLE FOR RECLAMATION OF WHALING RIGHTS
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One of the key debates within American environmentalism over the past forty years has been over its applicability beyond our cultural context. Its staunchest critics find that many of its precepts (most notably the wilderness concept at its heart) are founded on ethnocentric, indeed perhaps colonialist, suppositions. Its proponents however argue that there is an overriding truth to this, one that transcends the need for moral agreement and cultural respect. This thesis examines one case in which the precepts of American environmental thought were put to the test: the Makah Native American tribe's struggle for whaling rights. In this concept the Makah's ancient tradition of whaling came up against heated opposition from environmentalist critics, many of whom argued that whaling would harm the integrity of the ecosystem and of the whaling stocks, and that therefore the tradition should not be revived. This thesis will argue that ultimately this conflict shows the extent to which American environmentalism relies on ethnocentric presuppositions (including but not limited to the wilderness concept) to make its claims, and that therefore it requires a new path.