As I was born and raised in Ohio, a "Northwest Native" bumper sticker was never an option. But sometimes being an outsider can help you see things other people miss.
My first impression of Northwesterners was mostly positive (other than the fact that you were all still wearing bell-bottoms in 1979!), but I still remember how jarring it was to hear otherwise reasonable, rational folks spew anti-Indian slurs. And then they'd turn to you and explain they weren't racists—it's just that they grew up around Indians and they were all drunks, lived off the government, etc. Thanks for the clarification.
The presence of this peculiar regional prejudice—unfortunately as much a staple of Northwest culture as loving mountains and pine trees—is an unmistakable component of the debate over the Makah tribe's successful whale hunt. Racist signs were displayed and epithets hurled as protesters held a vigil for the dead whale at the Seattle Federal Building. Letters to the editor featured variations on the term "savages" and a general contempt for and paternalism towards Native Americans. One guy proposed that the Makahs turn their reservation into a sort of giant Tillicum Village, entertaining white tourists with their whale songs and stories. One woman even wrote that if the tribe was determined to resurrect its tradition of hunting whales, maybe us white folks should revive our 1800s cultural tradition of slaughtering Indians indiscriminately. A couple of young eco-terrorists were arrested for throwing lit smoke flares at a Makah powerboat—a dangerous act expressing simultaneously their reverence for animal life and their disdain for human life.
And every hunt opponent was quick to clue us into their view on the cultural significance of the Makah resuming their whaling tradition. In their reasoned white view, there wasn't any. Our ancestors had critically wounded tribal culture, and we were ready to declare it dead—never stopping to think that it was whites passing judgment on a people we don't understand that got us in trouble in the first place.
Native Americans are quite used to white people telling them what to do. This added a jubilant us-against-them edge to the hunt's success. You could see indicators of this latest cultural war in the sending of canoes and men by other tribes, the celebration on the beach as the whale was towed in, and the triumphant potlatch, which drew members of tribes from throughout the West.
There's no doubt that the opponents of the hunt believe deeply in their philosophical arguments. It's just a shame we have so little respect for the real Northwest natives.
White guys wanted
Just when you thought there were too many City Council candidates, there's the daily newspapers telling you there aren't enough.
Yes, in a one-week period in mid-May, both The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial pages were moaning over the sorry selection of knuckleheads who've already indicated interest in joining the City Hall nine. Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter singled out a trio of candidates for abuse—Charlie Chong, Cheryl Chow, and Dawn Mason—calling them "retreads" and "has-beens." The P-I edit had the same targets, but added former council member Sherry Harris, who still hasn't closed the books on her debt-ridden losing 1997 campaign.
This coordinated campaign raises a few questions:
*Why did both papers only attack candidates of color? Not that there's any sinister intent here, but let's not forget this is "we love everybody" Seattle. Couldn't they have picked a white guy to hate, too?
*Who figured that seeing Joni Balter in attack-dog mode two months before candidate sign-ups would make running for office seem more attractive?
*Who says a politician who lost an election trying to move up (as did Chong, Chow, and Mason) is officially a retiree? And none of these three has served more than eight years in public office, hardly qualifying them as career politicos.
*What specifically makes state Rep. Kip Tokuda and Seattle School Board member Barbara Schaad-Lamphere "intriguing" candidates? (Balter's claim.) Has either done anything significant we should know about?
*Why didn't anybody print the rumor that broadcaster and onetime US Senate hopeful Mike James is eyeing the city races? Hey, the council has never been more sorely in need of a good head of male hair.
Actually the most irritating point about this latest episode of Seattle daily newspaper groupthink is that nobody's pointing fingers at Martha Choe, the City Council veteran who just can't decide if she wants to run for re-election. Choe's waffling is doing more to keep candidates in the undecided column than any dearth of talent. But, of course, pointing that out would involve attacking a political ally—and it's so much more fun to blast your enemies.
Doing the right thing
It was a long time coming, but it's gratifying to see council member Nick Licata'seffort to amend the city's park exclusion ordinance. It won't work, of course. The problems that Licata has identified with the ordinance—it's being used to boot homeless people and street alcoholics from parks and subsequently jail them—are, unfortunately, exactly the effects the law was intended to have.
Although Licata promised during his 1997 campaign to revisit the law, the process has been slow, as only three council members are firmly in support of the amendments (the other two being Peter Steinbrueck and Richard McIver). Some council watchers feel Licata should have respected the council tradition of never making your colleagues take a tough vote unnecessarily and pulled the plug on this quixotic quest. They're wrong. If it isn't within the City Council's purview to debate issues of principle, whose job is it?