Headquarters of the Makah Native American Reservation reservation, it occupies a crescent-shaped flat at the foot of wooded ridges in a sheltered bay in the lee of Cape Flattery. Extending into the bay are two long slips, to which are tied dozens of fish boats and houseboats.
The Makah ( “cape people”) a branch of the Nootka, whose chief abode is on the outer side of Vancouver Island, and more closely connected with the culture of southeastern Alaska than with that of other Washington Native Americans. The Makah excel in the art of canoe making, their finished canoes ranging from the shovel-nose dugout, used in ascending shallow streams and capable of carrying one or two persons, to the ocean-going whaling canoe. In great canoes, as well as contemporary boats, the Makah still brave the dangers of crashing surf and ocean.
For early whaling, a harpoon or spear with detachable head was thrown at the whale. Attached to each harpoon was a stout rope about 20 feet in length (made from cedar bark chewed by Native American women) with a float attached, usually an inflated seal bladder. When close enough for the first thrust, the harpooner threw his barbed weapon, aiming just above the huge flipper of the exposed side. The float was thrown overboard, as the oarsman back-watered to avoid the lashing tail and pounding fins of the whale.
Floats prevented the whale from diving too deep and assisted the canoeman in tracing his course. When the animal came up to breathe, another spear was thrown. In this manner several floats were attached; the whale, unable to dive, was killed and towed ashore. Often as many as eight days were consumed in beaching the carcass.