Changing from the Present to the Past

Changing from the Present to the Past: The Makah Indian Whaling Case

By: *Drs. Karen Whalen-Berry and Gregory R. Berry


In 1994, following the removal of the grey whale from the endangered species list, the Makah Indian tribe of the U.S. northwest coast requested permission to hunt grey whales, a request based on historical culture and “aboriginal subsistence.” Whaling had been a part of the Makah culture for centuries. The Makahs, with the support of the U.S. government, were eventually successful in their request, and killed a grey whale in May 1999. Using case methodology, this paper explores through the Makah change initiative the nuances and complexities of a change from the present to the past, and change strategies and outcomes.


Most organizational change visions involve a transition from a present state to a future state that had not existed previously. Rarely does a change vision involve a transition from the present to the past, or a portion of the past. This paper examines the Makah Indians’ request in 1994 to resume whaling, a request based on “aboriginal subsistence” and a desire to return to historical traditions, norms, and culture (Schmidt, 1999). The Makah request and their eventual whale hunt in 1997 were not only a major news story, but also an intriguing case of organizational change. This change was based on a change vision of returning to a primary historical practice and tradition of the tribe, and proponents of the change hoped the hunt would have broad positive social, psychological, and economic impacts on the tribe and some of their current problems.

This paper explores two research questions through the Makah change initiative. First, how is a change effort that involves a change from the present to the past fundamentally different from conventional change efforts involving a change from the present to some future state? Second, what can we learn from the Makah case for other proposed return-to-the-past changes? Nuances and complexities of a change

Key words: Change process, Change strategies, Traditional mores, and Environmental management from the present to the past, and the change strategies and outcomes evident in this case are studied. Relevant change is reviewed and a methodology for the study is tested. Finally the Makah case itself is examined. The case is discussed from two perspectives: the nature of changing from the present to the past, the impact of strategy on outcome, and the lessons learned from the Makah case.

Review of Related Literature

Organizational change outcomes and strategies are first reviewed, and then link change strategies and outcomes is reviewed. A variety of strategies enable organizational change, but the effectiveness of each strategy is contingent on the situational context and type of change sought. One strategic framework for examining change involves identifying and examining single-, double-, or triple-loop strategies, and these strategies can result in three distinct types or magnitudes of change outcome: first-order, second-order, or third-order change (Bartunek and Moch, 1987; Nielson, 1993).

Change Outcomes

First-order change. First-order change results in relatively minor incremental behavioral shifts within an existing system (Argyris, 1992; Bartunek, 1984; Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch, 1974). In first-order change, the system itself does not change, but changes do occur within existing norms or frameworks. In first order change, existing assumptions, values and norms likely are not questioned or discussed (Argyris, 1992; Bartunek, 1984; Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch, 1974). For example, if a community has voluntary recycling and expands the effort to a sorting of recyclable items by community members with expanded pick-up of recyclable items, some additional community members may make the effort to recycle, some may recycle more items, and still others will not recycle at all. If the town council decides to support expanded curbside pick-up of a sorted items, this is an incremental change. Recycling is now more convenient and more people recycle. Although there might be a shift in behavior, there has not likely been a shift in core values or beliefs among community members. This represents a first-order change because the personal and community values regarding recycling have not changed but some incremental shift in behavior has occurred.

Second-order change. Second-order change results in changes to the system itself, not just change within the existing system or framework (Argyris, 1992; Bartunek, 1984; Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch, 1974). A second-order change might involve the same town council and community deciding to adopt sustainable development as a core mission for the community. Not only is recycling now mandatory but other programs are undertaken, such as having all community processes be sustainable in design and output, sending old computers to sister towns in developing countries, or refusing recyclable items at the town waste disposal center. The town might adopt related water management processes, for example consumption guidelines, which all community members support, and or respect. This represents second-order change because there is a change in the system. In addition to changed behaviors, a corresponding change in underlying personal and community values regarding recycling and the meaning of sustainable development occurs, as a result of education and dialogue.

Third-order change. Third order change not only changes systems and or organizations, but involves examining and changing the broader community or society, and, by definition, the relevant embedded assumptions, values and norms (Nielsen, 1993; Argyris, 1992; Bartunek, 1984; Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch, 1974). In third-order change, radical shifts in societal norms occur (Nielson, 1993). Continuing with our example of recycling and sustainable development, the town might carry its message of sustainable values throughout the state and lobby for state-wide change to support sustainability. In the specific example of water, the state would explore water consumption, conservation, and sustainability issues, and adopt a state-wide sustainable approach to water resources. Third-order change outcomes require a paradigmatic change in societal values. Although many community or organizational efforts may discuss lofty ideals, goals, and values, most change initiatives result in relatively modest first-order change.

Change Strategies Available to Change Leaders

Single-loop strategies. Single-loop change strategies include force, deal making, negotiation, rationalization, and contracts (Nielson and Bartunek, 1996), and are therefore mostly transactional and often win-lose. Open, ongoing dialogue and learning between various stakeholders or network members are rarely part of the single-loop change process. The relationship between those planning or demanding change and those affected by the change is not a primary consideration, so those planning change give little attention to understanding the values or needs of the various parties involved.

An example of classic single-loop strategy in the environmental arena is government regulatory demand. Government, often without consulting industry or community leaders, sets minimum acceptable environmental standards and then the regulation is mandated and enforced. Corporations are forced to comply with regulation, and change occurs. In a single-loop strategy, environmental or sustainable values underlying regulation are not discussed directly: external forces mandate and enforce behaviors, and corporate managers implement change and compliance as required. Although surface behavior has changed to some degree, corporate values remain unchanged. Communities likewise have little input in the change process or awareness of these changes; indeed most changes may be invisible to community members. Corporate values or beliefs remain unchanged, although surface behavior has changed to some degree as demanded.

Double-loop strategies. Dialogue is the key process in double- and triple-loop strategies (Nielson, 1993). Double-loop change strategies challenge the dominant values and beliefs held by various stakeholders. These differing or competing values and positions are willingly discussed, and voluntary change is an option, perhaps even an expectation. Participants in double-loop change efforts acknowledge seek attributes and assumptions, understanding underlying values and goals; and strive to get past “positions” to understand their own and other stakeholders’ underlying needs (Bartunek and Moch, 1987; Nielson, 1993).

In an environmental discussion, mutual learning and understanding take place and changed beliefs are possible. Government regulators, for example, would appreciate the competitive, economic, and time constraints on the corporation, while corporate decision makers would appreciate the underlying ecological and environmental concerns of the government and other stakeholders. Corporate decision makers would also appreciate the social and political pressures on government; these same forces act as necessary constraints on their own behavior and choices. The key aspect of double-loop dialogue is that the core values and beliefs of all involved organizations or groups are open to change, compromise or negotiation (Nielson, 1993), although change is not guaranteed. In a double-loop change initiative, improved relations between the parties and improved environmental behavior are achieved simultaneously.

Triple-loop strategies. Triple-loop change strategies challenge paradigmatic values and result in broader and deeper change than double-loop dialogue strategies do. Triple-loop strategies acknowledge the governing values embedded in a tradition or society, and these embedded values and there impact is held open to dialogue (Nielson, 1993). Dialogue is again the key process. In a triple-loop dialogue between government/ community and industry representatives, respective social and economic paradigms and needs would be discussed. Tradition and history relating to the issue would be considered; the current responsibility of each stakeholder to other stakeholders would be acknowledged; commonalities and positive aspects of the ecological and economic systems would be sought; economic, social, and political constraints would be identified; and a shared value and belief system regarding responsible behaviors and practices would perhaps evolve. This could lead to a “win” for all stakeholders. Double- and triple-loop strategies are relational, as opposed to the transactional nature of first-order processes.

Impact of change strategy on outcomes. Differentiating the relationship between the three types of change strategies and change outcome is important. Single-loop strategies will most likely result in first-order outcomes, and it is highly unlikely that the use of a first-order strategy will result in a second- or third-order outcome, although the stage may be set for such change in the future. Second- and third-order change strategies often result in only first-order change outcomes; second- and third-order change outcomes are rare and very difficult to achieve and or sustain. One or more change strategies can evolve, combine, or even change radically as individuals and groups make decisions and attempt change initiatives. Methodology and application of the study of the Makah whale hunting case follows.


Standard case methodology (Stake, 1995; Denzin and Lincoln, 1994) is used to develop this case. Sources included newspaper articles, journal articles specifically about the case, and books about whaling and the Makahs. In terms of developing and checking the validity of the case, the first author wrote the first draft of the case based on the sources identified above, and the second author reviewed the case for completeness and objectivity. By using the Makah case instrumentally (Stake, 1995) we can explore this particular case for its implications for other similar changes. The study of such a single case can lend insight into the process and nature of such change efforts and provide knowledge that can be used in subsequent, related research.

The Case
This case outlines a brief history of the Makah Indian tribe and the historical role of whaling in the tribe and follows the evolution of the tribe to their present-day claim that hunting grey whales on a limited basis is a cultural and historical right. The related outcomes from the academic change perspective and the actual outcomes for the Makahs are assessed.

Background of the Makahs

The earliest documented existence of the Makahs is in the late eighteenth century, at which time they had already settled at their present home near Cape Flattery in the United States, south of Vancouver Island. Originally called “people living at the Cape,” and having existed for over 1,500 years, the name Makah originated with the signing of a treaty with the U. S. government in 1855 (Colson, 1953). The dense forest surrounding their land isolated them for decades and gave them protection from many outside influences, including the influx of white settlement. Their language and culture was similar to other tribes along the western coast of Vancouver Island and other tribes and people of the Northwest Coast (Colson, 1953).

Colson (1953: p61) notes that in the early 1940s the Makah were not distinguishable from other people in the Neah Bay area based on “physical, cultural, or linguistic homogeneity.” During the early 1800s membership in the tribe was apparently based on residence in one of three independent villages, and although the villages were seen as related to each other, visits from one village to another were often regarded as trespassing (Colson, 1953). Primarily a seafaring people, the Makah generally lived on or close to shore in the summer, fishing for salmon, halibut, and other fish and hunting whales and seals. The Makah relocated along the river and off the ocean shoreline in the winter (Colson, 1953).

A degree of specialization existed in occupation, with Makah males being primarily fishermen, seal hunters, whale hunters, warriors, gamblers, or doctors (Colson, 1953). In addition, spiritual and curative societies existed within the tribe, and most Makah men sought guardian spirits for power, strength, and success in their chosen occupation (Colson, 1953). Fishing and whale hunting were honored occupations, the whaler being the most honored, even more so than the warrior (Colson, 1953). Unlike most other Northwest coast tribes, the Makah ate whale meat, although whalers themselves never ate whale meat because they believed it would bring the whale hunter bad luck (Waterman, 1967). The whalers, particularly the harpooner, were seen as strong with powerful Shaman-like guardian spirits. While the Makahs ate whale meat, halibut was the most critical item in their diet (Waterman, 1967). Whaling was viewed as so core to the Makah way of life that they were the only North American tribe to secure the right to hunt whales in the treaty they signed with the United States government in 1855 (Russell, 1999).

The Federal Indian Service placed an agent at Neah Bay in 1863 to oversee the Makah. The goal of the Indian Service in this era was to assimilate all Indians into the “white” culture, and from this time until the mid 1930s the focus of the Indian Service was overthrowing everything “Indian” (Colson, 1953). In 1934 the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, which granted Indians greater autonomy and management of their affairs. At this point, the Makah could choose whether to keep or return to their traditional customs or not. This choice, however, came after seventy years of forced assimilation and the attempted elimination of Makah cultural norms, and in a cultural context that viewed “white” culture, education, and religion as more developed and civilized, while the Makah culture was considered as tribal, wild, and heathen. The Makahs chose not to resume whaling in 1934 (Colson, 1953; Russell, 1999).

Current living conditions on the Makah reserve mirror conditions on many other Indian reserves in the United States. The economic situation in Neah Bay was dire in the early 1990s when discussion about a possible whale hunt started. Average income for tribal members was about seven thousand dollars per year, and unemployment ranged between 55 percent in the summer and 75 percent in the winter (Russell, 1999). Forestry and salmon fishing, both mainstay employment options for the Makah, were in decline along the coast, and much of the Makah land had already been clear-cut by forestry firms (Russell, 1999). The Neah Bay community and the Makah tribe were also burdened with alcoholism, domestic violence, and drug abuse, common symptoms of low economic status (Schmidt, 1999).

Whale Hunting in the Makah Culture

Although the halibut and salmon fishery was the tribe’s largest employer in the twentieth century, whale hunting had a central role in the Makah culture for as long as 1,500 years (Ranker and Gunther, 1990; Russell, 1999). Historically, young boys would participate in a ritual search for guardian spirits and would learn prayers and whaling techniques from the tribal elders (Waterman, 1967). Whaling had been a part of Makah life until approximately 1860, when sealing became more profitable for the hunters. The Makah returned to whaling in 1890, when government protection of the seals reduced the seal fur trade (Peterson, 1996). The Makah continued to hunt whales until around 1920; it is unclear whether this second cessation of whale hunting was voluntary, although this is claimed by at least one Makah elder (Russell, 1999; Kelley, 1998). The Makah returned to sealing about this time (Kelley, 1998, Waterman, 1967).
The Makahs believed that a successful whale hunt depended in part on the presence and help of spirits; so proper observance of rituals and ceremonies before, during, and after the hunt was critical. Several of the key ceremonies included ritual bathing, imitating the whale, prayers, and use of skeletons, taboos, astronomical observation, and dreams (Waterman, 1967). Bathing involved dawn soakings and skin and body rubbings with such plants as hemlock branches or seaweed. Imitating the whale meant mimicking a whale’s breeching movement at the end of the ritual bath. The use of skeletons meant swimming with whale skeletons attached to the whaler’s body. Whalers followed the moon’s phases as one consideration in whaling and whaling preparations, and dreams were thought to give guidance to whalers (Waterman, 1967).

The Makahs used a Chinook canoe, a “dugout” from a single cedar log, to hunt whales. The canoe was typically very plain and did not have the elaborate carvings or artwork found on the canoes of other Northwest tribes (Waterman, 1967). The canoes usually used a sail since the hunt could result in traveling long distances from shore; however, the sails were not particularly sophisticated or effective and could only be used for direct travel in the direction of the wind (Waterman, 1967).

Whales were hunted and killed with wooden harpoons that were often twelve to fifteen feet in length. The most effective harpoon thrust was to strike the whale just as the whale’s head started down after a blow (Waterman, 1967). The great length of the harpoon allowed a severe wound to the whale on the first blow, often penetrating the lungs, which made the ensuing fight and ultimate killing of the whale much easier for the whaler. Buoys made from sealskin were used to slow the whale’s progress after initial wounds. Buoys were also necessary to get the whale to the shore because if a harpooned whale died from drowning, it would sink (Waterman, 1967).

Upon the whalers’ return, the entire village would turn out to greet them. Songs of the hunter were also chanted or sung, often by male members of the hunter’s family or the whaler’s wife. Interestingly, the whale carcass was often left on the beach because the whale was viewed as “a guest of the village, and [was believed] to have appeared on the scene of his own volition” (Waterman, 1967). Finally, rituals existed for carving the whale. The harpooner received the hump, which is the richest in whale oil. The distribution of the rest of the whale meat was viewed as a potlatch, a tribal ritual of hosting a feast, thus maintaining the whaler’s high place of honor and prestige within the tribe (Waterman, 1967).

The Makahs most frequently hunted California grey whales, although they also hunted sperm, right, humpback, finback, sulphur-bottom, and killer whales (Waterman, 1967). Hunted nearly to extinction, the grey whale came under the protection of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986 as part of a worldwide prohibition on commercial whaling (Schmidt, 1999). The United States had already imposed a ban on commercial whaling in 1948, and permitted very limited whale hunting only for scientific research or subsistence (McMahon, 1998).

The Makahs’ Desire to Reclaim Their Culture by Hunting Grey Whales

In 1996, two years after grey whales were removed from the endangered species list (Russell, 1999; McMahon, 1998), the Makah Indians petitioned the IWC for permission to hunt twenty whales over a five-year period beginning in 1998 (Economist, 1997; Wickens, 1998). The United States government supported the request of the Makah, since the treaty signed in 1855 granted the Makahs whaling rights (Schmidt, 1999).

The Makahs made their request on the basis of “aboriginal subsistence,” and the president of the Makah Whaling Commission noted that the hunt would bring needed food to the tables of his people (Brunet, 1998). Whaling was seen as a means to supply cheap food for tribal members, requiring only labor if tribal customs for whaling were used and providing tons of whale meat per kill (Brunet, 1998).
The president of the Makah Whaling Commission also argued that whaling was based on the Makah’s heritage (Kelley, 1998), and that current health problems among the Makah may be related to a loss of the traditional whale-meat diet, saying “the (social) problems troubling our young people stem from lack of discipline and pride … Resuming whaling will help restore that.” (Russell, 1999: p31).

The Makah community was not unanimous in their desire to return to whaling. Seven elders of the tribe spoke against the request to the IWC in 1996 (Kelley, 1998). In historical Makah culture, the voice of the elders would have been the decision of the tribe. Alberta Thompson, one of the elders and the granddaughter of a whaler, argued that eating whale meat was no longer a matter of subsistence, noting the tribe’s survival since the 1920s when the Makah last hunted whales (Russell, 1999). She further noted that she hoped the tribe will realize that “the whale gave up his life for a hundred years ago so that we could eat. Now we want to honor and protect the whale until the end of time.” (Russell, 1999). Her belief was echoed by other tribal members, who suggested the whale-watching business would more likely benefit the Makah tribe economically (Russell, 1999).

Outside opponents raised concerns about the implications of the request for other former whaling tribes; for whaling countries such as Japan, Norway, and Iceland; and for the ultimate impact on the whale populations (Economist, 1997; Wickens, 1998). Some regarded the request of the Makah tribe minor on its own merits, but with major implications as far as potential historical and cultural claims from Japan and other nations (McMahon, 1998). The Japanese, for example, could redefine their commercial operation as “traditional, community-based whaling,” a phrase very similar to “aboriginal subsistence whaling” allowed by the IWC (Schmidt, 1999).

Opponents feared that if Japan and Norway also argued culture as a reason to return to commercial whaling, it would have a devastating effect on the world’s whale population (Berman, 2000). In addition, opponents raised a concern over the difference between the migratory population of thousands of grey whales between the northwest Pacific coast and Baja, and the resident population of only fifty or so whales near Vancouver Island where most Makah hunting would take place (Wickens, 1998).

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act further complicated the Makah’s claim for the right to hunt the grey whale based on cultural, historical and treaty rights. These documents showed that the original intent of the elected Makah leadership was to build a processing plant for whale meat on the reserve and to sell whale products to Japan and Norway (Russell, 1999; Schmidt, 1999). This economic development initiative, it was hoped, would transform the chronically poor and failing economy of the tribe almost overnight. After initial skirmishes with government and the IWC, and realizing the unlikely public or IWC acceptance of a full-fledged whale-processing operation, the elected Makah leadership scaled back their proposal to serve only “ceremonial and subsistence purposes” (Schmidt, 1999).

On May 17, 1999, the whale hunt took place (McMahon, 1999). While the hunt followed some tribal customs and rituals regarding whaling, it did not follow others. Those chosen to participate in the hunt were predominately from one of the most politically powerful families in the tribe (Schmidt, 1999), and their ceremonial and whale hunting skills were suspect. The Makahs did use a traditional cedar dugout canoe, but it was dragged out to sea by a powerboat and didn’t carry sail (Berman, 2000; McMahon, 1999), and it had been purchased from a Vancouver carver (Schmidt, 1999). Small planes guided the whalers on the hunt (Berman, 2000), and, although the whale was initially harpooned, the harpoon used was made of stainless steel and was not the traditional wooden harpoon. After the ceremonial jab, a .50-caliber antitank gun was used to repeatedly shoot the whale until it was dead. The mouth was then sewn shut and the whale was dragged to shore by motorboats.

Many observing the incident felt that what used to be a solemn and spiritual occasion had become “fun” (McMahon, 1999). The whaling leader, Wayne Johnson, commented that the hunt combined “big whales, big waves, big guns, and a lot of crazy people” (Satchell, 1998: p38).

Outcomes of the Makahs’ Desire to Reclaim Their Culture

First kill. The Makah hunters did kill a young grey whale in May 1999, so in at least one aspect, they were successful in their attempt to reclaim their whaling heritage. An Alaskan whale carver led the butchering of the whale, although by late in the evening on the day of the kill, not one member of the Makah community was assisting the carver. Most of the whale meat was frozen and stored, thus meeting the goal of providing food for the tribe. A traditional potlatch did occur.
While planning did begin for subsequent hunts after the first kill, some of the young men who participated in the first hunt expressed concern over lack of expertise and knowledge of tribal customs regarding whaling (Sullivan, 2000). One member of the crew felt it had been very dangerous to harpoon the whale so close to the canoe and that lives could have been lost if the whale’s tail had hit the canoe (Sullivan, 2000).

Anticipated impact on the tribe. Many of the Makah felt that a return to whaling would positively affect the tribe, giving the young a sense of tradition and the tribe a sense of their history. Many also felt that this return to their cultural roots might have a positive impact on some of the ongoing social and community issues of the Makah, including poverty, poor diet, alcoholism, depression, and unemployment. Johnson, the leader of the hunt, claimed: “Our children and tribe . . . won’t be lost in the computer world of the twenty-first century, because we have strong sense of who we are … It’s [whaling that has] placed us on solid ground” (Russell, 1999: 31). Some of the Makah saw the May 1999 whale hunt as their right, as evidence of their traditions, and as an outward sign of the tribe’s power in enforcing their 1855 treaty rights (Sullivan, 2000). At the potlatch celebrating the first kill, many speeches referred to the greatness of the tribe.

Opponents argued that the whale kill has had no effect on any of the social problems the Makah tribe was facing (Bernton, 2002a) and that to hope that a stand-alone change such as a return to whaling would affect the broader community issues was unreasonable. Opponents also noted that the traditional whaling customs of the tribe were not followed and that the tribe relied extensively on outsiders. Outsiders provided the canoe and carved the whale, for example, and most of the equipment and weapons used in the hunt were not traditional. No evidence has been found showing improvements in terms of employment or income figures as a result of the hunt.

Media circus. The Makah did not anticipate the scrutiny of the media. What the Makah had construed as a relatively private community activity became a global media event, with potential ramifications for other tribes and nations and even the survival of the global whale population. The actual hunting and killing of the whale was broadcast live, resulting in some criticism about the nature of the hunt. In the days following the kill, the media was generally critical of the tribe, although a few reporters did support the Makahs’ attempt to return to their historical traditions and culture. A media contingent including reporters from print and video outlets resided in Neah Bay from the time the Makah received permission until the first hunt. The Makahs and their supporters used the media as a source of power, but so did their more media-savvy opponents, including environmental organizations.

Subsequent court decision. In June 1999, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Commission had not sufficiently reviewed the decision to allow the Makah to hunt grey whales on a limited basis and suspended the agreement reached by the U.S. government with the IWC (Mapes, 2000). The court of appeals found the U.S. government’s environmental study “demonstrably suspect” because the government was “predisposed” to support the Makah proposal, possibly to support the government treaty signed in 1855. This court decision ordered the U.S. government to suspend the whale hunt while a new and unbiased environmental study was done (Lovvorn, 2000). Surprisingly, in the summer of 2001, the court-ordered assessment resulted in an expanded Makah whaling territory. Whereas the Makah’s hunting area had been previously limited to the open ocean and to certain times of the year, the government now allows the Makahs to take grey whales any time of the year and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is more convenient to their home port of Neah Bay (Anderson, 2001). This opens the way for the Makah to hunt “resident whales,” one of the concerns the Sea Shepherd Society had expressed in earlier confrontations. Over the four year period from 1998 to 2002 environmentalists estimated that the grey whale population decreased by approximately by several thousand whales, from the mid twenty thousands to approximately eighteen thousand (Sorensen, 2002). Nonetheless, at the 2002 IWC meeting, the IWC upheld the Makah request for their five-year quota of twenty grey whales (Bernton, 2002b). Also, in 2002, the Makah leader of the 1999 whale hunt said that he would not lead the hunt or hunt whales again, a decision based on the general opposition and the decision of the Makah tribe to no longer subsidize whaling (Mapes, 2002). Opponents of the hunt sought an injunction in early 2002 to prevent the Makah hunt until the court ruled on appeals, and in December 2003, the court ruled against the Makahs, thus stopping their whaling (Bernton, 2002a; Anonymous, 2003). The ruling was based primarily on forcing compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (Anonymous, 2003).

This case is discussed through two research questions: 1) how is a change effort that involves a change from the present to the past fundamentally different from conventional change efforts involving a change from the present to some future state?, and 2) what can we learn from the Makah case for other proposed return-to-the-past changes?

The Nature of Change Efforts Involving a Change from the Present to the Past

Regardless of the change framework or change strategy chosen, all change planning and process involve some degree of identification of where the organization is currently placed relative to where the organization wants to be. Change efforts involving a change from the present to the past have several unique aspects, including establishing a change vision based on the past, considering historical values and or customs in present-day time or across, the importance of double-loop strategies in such changes, and the impact of chosen strategy on the change outcome.

Establishment of a change vision based on the past. Most change efforts involve a vision of some future state that the organization has not previously experienced, and such changes hopefully have well-defined and measurable objectives (e.g., “we will produce in a through sustainable development processes,” or “we will increase sales volume for a particular product or service or customer demographic by ten percent over the next six months.”). A change based on a return to the past is confounded by various personally subjective and interpretive versions of exactly what this past state truly was. The desire for a return to a prior way of life is reasonable for the Makah given the poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, and drug abuse seen on the reserve today (Verhovek, 1998). Some combination of economic and cultural renewal to achieve this change also seems reasonable. The whale hunt would not only provide food for the community but also employment and activity for young Makah men. But, perhaps most importantly it would signal a return to traditional cultural ways, creating pride and identity for the tribe.

A general problem with a change to the past may be that past history is often idealized as “the good old days,” and may be unattainable, regardless of circumstance or effort. The Makah did have a 1,500-year history on the land (Colson, 1953; Erikson, 1999), but their cultural traditions were severely impacted by over a century of assimilation and colonialization. For the Makahs to re-achieve what they consider their greatest point of culture and life, through returning to the specifics of that life, is, likely, impossible. What they likely could achieve is healthier, more productive, modern-day version of that time.

Ironically, during this attempt to return to the past elected tribal leadership ignored the advice of tribal elders was ignored regarding the hunt. The elders were the voice of the tribe in traditional Makah society, but respect for the advice of the elders has apparently been lost in recent decades. Elders are now seen as out of touch with present-day reality. The Makah no longer spoke with a single voice: even the tribe’s elders were not in agreement with each other regarding the hunt. Seven elders appeared before the IWC in 1996 to oppose the proposed hunt, at which time the IWC determined that the hunt was not rooted in aboriginal or cultural need (LaBudde, 1997).

Since the Makah community is the organization being analyzed in this case, the lack of a unified community voice is troubling. Not only is the community voice split between the traditional and the modern, and between the elders and the elected leaders, but also there is lack of consensus even within these subgroups. While lack of clarity about the specifics of a change vision often occurs, the lack of clarity in this case shifted the vision and subsequent change strategy. This confusion of meaning and choice of a change vision reflects differing perspectives on cultural and economic development. In this case, the vision of the past was clouded and somewhat different for each tribal member, so the focus of the discussion became the pragmatic requirements for the hunt instead of the potential social and economic benefits expected from the hunt as a part of historical cultural practice. The hunt itself became the focus of the change instead of being only one aspect of renewed cultural pride and change.

Considering values over major time periods. All change efforts face challenges and dissention, but a change effort faces special challenges when it starts with a stated return-to-the-past value as the main reason for change. The Makah’s core argument that reclaiming or revitalizing culture is appropriate and even desirable, regardless of the passage of time and changes in the social and environmental context, relies on a sort of timeless cultural imperialism, an argument supported, in some instances, by the United Nations guidelines for indigenous cultures and tribes. This point is important because, as noted by the opponents of the hunt, re-embracing historical culture and tradition could be the basis for many similar changes--in this case, the more open and active hunting of whales by other tribes or countries. A similar argument could be made for any number of issues typically viewed as undesirable today, including degrading environmental practices, slavery, child labor, the abuse of women or minorities, and even various forms of human sacrifice.

If change based on embracing historical culture and tradition is to occur, how do we consider such change in the context of the present? For example, ecological knowledge and environmental management has changed dramatically since the Makahs quit whaling in the 1920s, for example, so the question is whether this additional knowledge and awareness should be weighed as more significant than historical practice, or at least considered regardless of culture or “rights.” A second question is whether the adoption of historical and or cultural practices should be done based on those historical customs and practices? In this case, should the whale hunt have followed the historical whale hunting rituals or practices, or is the use of modern-day technology appropriate since technology evolves over time.

The importance of double-loop strategies in changes to the past. The identification of a change desire is considerably different from a change implementation. Using the hunt as a means of returning to the past and reclaiming the tribe’s culture, heritage and pride invokes aspects of a second-order change outcome, in that current day values and systems would change if the stated change vision is achieved. A second-order change outcome is desired, including an escape from poverty and other social ills, yet this change is expected to occur through one specific first-order change strategy, in this case, the whale hunt itself. The desire to escape poverty, alcoholism, and other social ills through a spiritual renewal is certainly familiar in our society, but the renewal in this case was to be achieved through a return to past practice instead of a move forward to new practice. The Makahs were hoping for a massive second-order change, perhaps even third order change given the isolated nature of their community--yet the initiative itself focused entirely on the first-order change strategy of the hunt itself. The renewal of the hunt, as implemented, resulted in a first-order change outcome because it was completely subsumed within the existing systems of the Makah community. In short, everything remains the same except that a whale hunt by a few individuals is overlaid on existing and continuing community behavior, values, and systems.

The impact of change strategy on the change outcome. Supporters of the Makah whale hunt believed that whaling would give the tribe a sense of history and a renewed pride in their culture, and would therefore have a positive impact on ongoing social problems (Russell, 1999). Expected improvements in community life if the Makahs achieved their stated change goals would include reclaimed or new values for community members, especially the youth of the community; additional employment for tribal members; healthier tribal members because of a partial return to a traditional whale-meat diet; and dramatic changes in the community dynamic. Such a change for the Makahs--change in the values and systems of the tribe--is second-order change (Bartunek, 1984). The process to achieve this second-order change should thus rely on double-loop change strategies (Bartunek, 1984).

However, all parties, including the Makahs and their supporters and the opponents to the hunt, relied almost exclusively on single-loop strategies. The Makahs did not consider options other than whale hunting for reclaiming their culture, and their opponents were focused only on stopping the hunt. The various newspaper accounts and records of the IWC petition and other legal hearings in this case contain very little evidence of consideration of any broader options, although alternative methods of controlling the area and size of the hunt were discussed.

The actual change that has occurred, at least to this point, is, sadly only a first-order change within the existing societal value system of the tribe. The Makahs did hunt the grey whale. In that sense their change effort can be labeled successful. However, the hunt has not had the hoped-for social impact in the five years since the initial hunt, and thus did not result in second-order change. Little has changed for the Makah at a community or society level (Russell, 1999), and there is no evidence that subsequent whale hunts will change the tribe’s economic or cultural well-being. This is due partly to the complexities of changing from the present to the past, and, it is in part due to the strategy of reclaiming broad parts of the past through the return to a single activity of that past. It is troubling if this case is to be seen as a precedent for other changes that an argument can be successfully made about reclaiming the values and outcomes of a time in the past through the present-day return to one particular activity. In fact the past that the Makahs hoped to reclaim was based on an entire life system, not just one piece of that system.

Lessons Learned From the Makah Case

Historical culture as basis for change
. Early in the case, documents show that the Makah’s initial interest in a resumption of whaling may have been economically based (Russell, 1999). The promise of a whale-processing plant with Japan as a customer (Schmidt, 1999) offered a significant positive impact on the Makah’s economic future. Current national and international restrictions on whaling, public opinion, and the commitment and strength of networked pro-whale and pro-environmental activists, all combined to doom such an economically focused approach to change before it started. This left the Makahs with only the cultural and historical argument. An improved quality of life is an honorable goal for any community, but the focus of interest in this case is on the use of historical culture as a reason for advocating and implementing a particular change. All change efforts are subject to public scrutiny, but when the values of the past are not congruent with current values, the scrutiny is intensified. A change framed as returning to the past constrains the nature and outcomes of the change. The Makahs may have been better off in the end with a change vision that stated, “The Makahs wish to revitalize their tribal heritage and their economy, and improve their daily life.” A myriad of single or combined change efforts could have had a more significant impact on that broader change vision than did the whale hunt. For example, exploring how to revitalize the local fisheries or participating in the eco-tourism industry through offerings such as whale-watching trips or starting new businesses on the reserve or in Neah Bay could all have had greater employment and economic benefits for the Makah tribe.

Impact of current communication technology on change initiatives. While the Makah change initiative may have felt very small in terms of magnitude to the Makah tribe, the media response and publicity about their desired and actual hunt was intense, and others saw the change initiative as having very serious implications, in particular, for the whale species. As business organizations attempt major reorganizations and or cultural change, they are subject to the same scrutiny. For business organizations it can be especially problematic given the market focus on short-term results, and the length of time required for major change. A key part of managing major organizational change, given current media and communication technology, is the proactive management of communication about the change, market analysts, and the media.

Current change practice and the Makah case. Many current change models advocate dialogue as a means to significant and positive change (Cooperrider, Sorensen, Yaeger, and Whitney, 2001; Nielsen and Bartunek, 1996; Nielsen, 1993). Authentic dialogue did not occur in this case, only negotiation and statements and counter responses. Authentic dialogue alone might have dramatically impacted this case. Appreciative inquiry promotes beginning change efforts by asking the unconditionally positive question, or, in other words, identifying “what gives life” or the “best of what is” for the organization (Cooperrider, 2001: p9). Within the Makah tribe the appreciative inquiry approach would likely have identified a number of tribal activities, norms, and values related to the question, “What gives life?” The Makah change vision could have been much deeper and very different from the onset, rather than simplistically tied to the tribe’s historical tradition of whaling or the present-day whale hunt. There have been global, multi- organizational cases in which appreciative inquiry was used successfully, but the organizations appeared initially to have common goals, even if they were not in agreement on the specific means of reaching the goals (Watkins and Cooperrider, 2001; Mantel and Ludema, 2001). Appreciative inquiry seems to create a bigger whole from the parts and to transcend differences in new ways, resulting in significant positive change. It would be worth considering in a change effort like that undertaken by the Makahs (Cooperrider, Sorensen, Yaeger, and Whitney, 2001; Watkins and Cooperrider, 2001; Mantel and Ludema, 2001).

Organizational lessons can be learned from the Makahs’ experience. Most organizational change efforts are obviously less emotionally charged than the protection or hunting of whales, yet the lessons regarding change and networked coalitions remain valid. The Makahs were trying to implement a relatively small change. The impact of this change might not have been felt beyond the tribe in earlier and less technologically connected or politically and socially aware times. But because networking and communication technology creates the possibility of global awareness of even the most local events, organizations have to be aware of potential external reactions to proposed changes in organizational practice; information is no longer controlled by the organization as it was in the past.

In all likelihood more change efforts of the nature and type of the Makahs’ will occur as various peoples and organizations establish their place within the global community. We will certainly be aware of one another, as we were of the Makahs. In the face of modern complexities of a life that seems less abundant, many may desire to return to what seemed a more abundant, life-giving time. Whether our efforts to move forward or backward follow best practices and result in positive outcomes is yet to be determined.

*Dr. Karen Whelan-Berry is an Associate Professor in Business Management, School of Business, Utah Valley University. Dr. Gregory R. Berry is a Visiting Associate Professor in the Organizational Leadership and Strategy Department at Brigham Young University.


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**Editor’s Note: Simulated business practices in classrooms frequently include incident and theoretical cases. JBI publishes cases (processed and reviewed through the blind review procedures) that provide historical facts and hypothesis for analytical inquiry. Onsite service learning, cooperative education experiences, and sponsored internships are extensions of this instructional process and compliment case analysis. JBI seeks research and/or cases assisting the study of business change, organizational trends, and impacts on social and economic conditions.