The Makah tribe of Washington state can be found on the pacific coast in Neah Bay, Washington. The land in which they live offers many useful resources within the pacific ocean waters and dense evergreen forests. Ocean and forest life offer a vast supply of food for the community giving the Makah tribe its name, meaning "People generous with food". Today there are roughly 1500 people that make up the Makah tribe, all of which are very proud of their heritage and vast abundance of food.
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2,000 years ago - The Makah began whaling
Several hundred years ago - There was a mudslide that buried a Makah village called the Ozette village
1788 - First contact with non Indians
1789 - The tribe discovered a new market with trade ships from Europe
Late 1700's - Makah is introduced to the Ozette potato by Spanish explorers
1792 - Spanish established a first European settlement on Makah land
1792 - Makah made the European settlement leave their land
January 31, 1855 - Makah signed a treaty with the US to protect their whaling, sealing, fishing, and village land rights called "The Treaty of Neah Bay"
Late 1800's - Thousands of tribe members died from epidemics like smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, and whooping cough
1920's - Makah voluntarily stop whaling because there were virtually no whales left in their waters
1924 - Makah people are allowed to vote as a US citizen
1936 - Accepted the IRA and signed the Makah constitution
May 17, 1999 - The Makah killed their first whale since the 20's and celebrated with a ceremonial potlatch feast with the entire tribe


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The Makah Tribe inhabited a vast piece of coastal territory within the Olympic peninsula of Washington State which was bordered by the Straight of Juan De Fuca and the Pacific Ocean.


The Makah people over the years. have adapted the English language. In the past, they spoke their native Makah language, Wakashan. this language isn't spoken fluently within the tribe anymore although, there are still elders who know how to speak a little Wakashan.

Social Organization and Government

The Makah's live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control by law. The Makah Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Makah's are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Makah village was led by its own local chief or headman, who was always a high-ranking clan leader. Today, the Makah Indians are governed by a tribal council elected by all the people. The Makah chief was always a man, but clan leaders could be either men or women. Makah women gathered plants, herbs and clams and did most of the child care and cooking. Men were hunters and fishermen and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Men were obviously dominant over women.


Makah men didn't usually wear clothing at all, though some men wore breech clouts. Women wore short skirts made of cedar bark or grass. In the rain, the Makahs wore tule rush capes, and in colder weather, they wore tunics, fur cloaks and moccasins on their feet. Later, after European influence, Makah people began wearing blanket robes. Both men and women sometimes wore a basketry hat made of finely woven spruce root. The designs and patterns of these hats often displayed a person's status and family connections. Whalers' hats were especially elaborate. The Makah's painted their faces different colors for war, religious ceremonies, and festive occasions, and women often wore tribe tattoos. Makah women usually wore their hair in either one or two long braids, while men sometimes coiled theirs into a topknot. Like other Northwestern Indians, Makah men often wore mustaches and beards.
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Diet and Food Sources

The diet of the Makah tribe revolves around the ocean and the forest. The tribe is so close to the Pacific ocean, they have an abundance of fish and other sea life which is eaten for protein. They also hunt for forest animals such as bear, deer, and rabbit. The forest is also full of berries and roots, so the women would pick and pull them for a treat or something good to eat. They also used whale blubber as a condiment with almost every meal, after is was rendered into an oil. With the left over and extra food they picked and caught the tribal people would dehydrate the berries and freeze the meat to preserve it. The meat was usually smoked or cooked over a fire. The berries were eaten as a treat or an accent with meals. The roots are used when cooking. the women would chop, cut or leave whole for an extra flavor in their food.


The Makah's lived in coastal villages of rectangular cedar-plank houses with flat roofs. Usually these houses were large about 60 feet long and each one housed several families from the same clan.
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The Makah Indian tribe made large dugout canoes by hollowing out cedar logs. The Makah tribe used these canoes to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare.

Tools and Weapons

Makah hunters used harpoons tipped with mussel shells and bows and arrows. Fishermen used hook and line or wooden fish traps. In war, Makah men fired their bows or fought with spears and war clubs. Makah warriors would wear armor made of hardened elk hide. Europe and China also used bow and arrows as weapons during this time.

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Economic Activities and Trade

The tradition of whaling is a source of great pride among the Makah. Whales were hunted for their meat and blubber, and nearly every part of the whale was designated for use. Humpback, right, sperm, gray, fin and blue whales were among the species traditionally hunted by the Makah. Oil rendered from the whale’s blubber was a valuable commodity, earning whaling families great wealth. The bones of the whale were useful for making combs, spindle whorls, war clubs, bark pounders, shredders and personal adornments. Sea otters were a valuable item used for trade. The sea otter has the thickest, densest fur of any mammals and in the 1700s their skins could earn the seller enough to purchase a schooner. The otter’s skin was also used as a chafe guard to be worn under cedar clothing. On a social and political level the Makah were the only tribe in western Washington organized on a multi village or "tribal" level. The tribes around them were organized and structured by the American government after the mid 1850's.

Religious Beliefs

The Makah Indians believe the world is filled with powerful spiritual forces. These forces are not beings, but rather sources of power that can be used for good or evil purposes. The Makah are not concerned with the afterlife or abstract morality but rather focus their attention on how to improve their present lives. They are most interested in the power to heal and increase happiness in life. They do not believe in an after life.

Creation Story

Hohoeapbess: Twin Transformer characters, brothers of the sun and moon, who brought balance to the world by using their powers to change people, animals, and the landscape into the forms they have today.

Recreation and Games

Dutaxchaias - A game generally played by young men. To converging lines of six to ten men on each side are formed. The man at the apex of the line takes the ring in his hand and rolls it between the lines as far as he can, before the ring falls the others must shoot at it with their arrows and try to hit the ring. Whoevers side hits it gets to keep the arrow. The winner is the first side to claim all the arrows.

Canoe Racing

Videos on the Culture and History

How they became such great whale hunters

NHD 2011 Makah Whaling Documentary

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Works Cited

Council, Makah Tribal. n.d. Makah Tribe History and More.
Dorsey, George. n.d. Makah Indians. S.I.
Renker, Ann. n.d. The Makah Tribe: People of the Sea and the Forest.
Riley, Carroll. 1968. The Makah Indians: A study of Political and Economic Organization. Duke University Press.
website, Native Languages of the Americas. 1998-2015. Makah Indian Fact Sheet.
Weinbaum, Matthew. 2000. Makah Native Americans Vs. Animal Rights Activists.