“Brenda Peterson, one of the most eloquent nature writers of our time, shares her numerous experiences with our animal kin and shows us how deeply spiritual and soulful they are, and also how to love them for who they are.”
—Marc Bekoff, author The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explains Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy—and Why They Matter
While at first glance, Alberta Thompson was a genial grandmother, she was also formidable and stalwart, Her jet black hair was illumined by one startling silver streak running back from her widow's peak like a lightning bolt. Her somber tone and dignified presence said she was very mindful of what she was about to do. She meant to dispel the media's simplistic portrait of a battle brewing between conservationist conservationists and whale-hunting Indians on the high seas. She wanted to talk about her tribe’s deep divisiveness on the issue of returning to a Makah whale hunt
"Most of the elders are against this hunt," Alberta began, sitting in a rocking chair. Her modest trailer was decorated with Makah carvings, hand-knit afghans, and walls crowded with photos of what Alberta calls her “United Nations of a family,” all colors and all devoted to her. Family and friends call her "Binki" and by the stream of visitors, grandsons, and grown children, it was obvious that Alberta is much beloved.
"I am speaking for the silent majority of Makah and the elders because they are afraid,” Alberta began. “Some of the elders are so old they cannot stand up for hours at tribal meetings. Because they're against the hunt, the young men on the Tribal Council will not even give these old ones a chair to sit down." Alberta's vibrant voice trembled. "They are our elders, but the Tribal Council is not listening to them. The Tribal Council tells them that opposing the hunt will threaten our treaty rights." Alberta said firmly, "That is not true at all! Our treaty rights will stand, whether or not we go whaling."
Seven Makah elders, including the oldest living Makah, had signed a petition against the hunt, which Alberta and another Makah grandmother Dotti Chamblin, presented at the International Whaling Comissions's (IWC) yearly meeting in June 1996 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Alberta grinned, "The Tribal Council told the IWC that I was 'dangerous.' I arrived in a wheel chair. What would make me, an old woman, so dangerous?”
Albert Thompson leaned forward in her rocking chair and her wide, generous face was set in a stoic expression. The Makah no longer needed the gray whale to subsist, she said. "It is a different time. It is a different ocean, and a different whale. If the Makah go whaling," she predicted, "then some of us Makah will be out on the boats to try to protect the whales from slaughter."
Alberta concluded our conversation with this question. "I asked Ben Johnson, the chairman of the Makah Whaling Commission, 'Who is going to be responsible for the first deaths? Because there will be deaths.'"
Two years later during the spring, 1999 Makah whale hunt, Alberta Thompson was indeed there on the marina dock, in the media, among the protesters to protect the gray whales from her tribe's hunters. She would suffer much for her beliefs and most often in the media glare, she would stand alone, still representing the other elders who were silenced by the Tribal Council.