We’ve made it to the northwesternmost spot in the contiguous USA, Cape Flattery, WA! As it often happens, the destination was only one good part of our trip. On our way to the cape, we had the unique opportunity to attend the festivities of the Makah Native Americans’ annual celebrations at Neah Bay.
The winding road guided us along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, under the peaceful shade of ancient forests first to Clallam Bay and then to Neah Bay, “the beginning of the world and the land of the Makah – the Cape People.”
We almost missed our turn into the Makah Museum, distracted by the bay’s beauty and the banner hanging over the road inviting us to the Makah Days. The museum was a wonderful account of the ancient tribe’s history and heritage. We learned about the whale hunting tribe and its close-knit family culture, and about their struggle with the European colonization. The original territory encompassed a large part of the Olympic Peninsula and the Vancouver Island, the Makah family unit transcending imposed political borders. The tribe members were skilled fishermen and lived in ingeniously-built cedar plank log homes together with their extended families. The community worked together and shared the fruit of their labor with their kind. The European settlers decided to teach the Makah about agriculture as a better way to provide sustenance. However, they didn’t account for the difficult terrain and weather of the Pacific Northwest, ignoring the fact that the indigenous people had managed to do very well for centuries without outside “help.”
The festival was in full swing when we joined in the celebrations. We found a spot at a community table and savored the traditional smoked salmon alongside corn and beans. We watched and marveled at the skillful canoe rowers, some as young as 7 year old. We admired the woodwork of the locals and took home t-shirts displaying traditional representations of whales and canoes.
Today, the Makah tribe is down from approximately 4,000 members to a little over a thousand members in Neah Bay but their tradition still goes on. As we were walking toward Cape Flattery, we passed a mom and daughter and delighted in hearing the mom teach the kid the native tongue.
We reached the cape after a short walk through the forest. In the distance, whales were hunting for food, in close proximity to fishing boats. We took a minute to just breathe in the beauty of the northernmost point in the contiguous USA and give thanks to the Makah people for their hospitality.