Ethics, Culture, and Controversy - Baleen.
When I mentioned baleen in my last post, I knew there would be some concerns about the moral and ethical aspects of my decision. I started to respond in my comment section and I realized that writing this much in the comment section could be considered cruel and unusual punishment for people and their eyeballs. So, I’ve opted to write it (a listing of why I’ve opted to use baleen for my stays instead of other options) in the bigger forum of a full blog post. It’s long, lacking pictures, and controversial. So read ahead with that in mind, you’ve been warned….
1. Whaling in Alaska is tightly regulated by the government and only the indigenous people are allowed to hunt the whale (which they have done for thousands of years), the whale is a ‘subsistence hunt’ and not for sport. Villages are highly restricted on how many whales can be hunted per year. Also, with my knowledge of the native peoples of this continent (my step-father, who actively raised me from the age of 4, being of Northern Cheyenne descent), I understand the spiritual aspects of the animal hunt and the respect given to the animal by Native Americans. This hunting done to support a livelihood, a culture, and a society of a race of people that suffered genocidal conditions not so different from Auschwitz that was mentioned in comments. The whale has been used in total, including the baleen that I purchased. With that in mind, I am continuing the tradition. The sacrifice of the whale will not be wasted. The baleen will be used as a learning tool and as a part of the much loved and labored over garment. To me, this is better than it sitting on a fireplace of a maritime collector or in Sarah Palin's display box on her Fox News set.
Here is the blurb I pulled from Subsistence Resources website about the 1966 ruling on whaling and native people (From the Marine Mammal Protection Act that Anon mentioned in my comments): "Alaska Natives enjoy exclusive use exemptions of whales, walrus, seals, polar bear and sea otter under the mandates of the MMPA. Subsistence whale harvests became strictly regulated and clearly defines the communities in Alaska that can participate and the quotas allotted to the respective villages. All other marine mammal subsistence harvest for walrus, polar bears, seals, and sea otter is loosely regulated, there are no seasons and bag limits. The harvest must be non-wasteful and will become strictly regulated if those populations become depleted. It should be strongly noted that even after 30+ years of loose regulations the population of walrus, polar bear, and sea otter appear to be doing quite well and perhaps fully recovered."
Comparing the whaling of modern indigenous people to what went on by Europeans and white Americans between the 17th and early 20th century is unfair. Concern that the whaling is going unregulated as before is one thing, but that has been proven otherwise as best as is possible. I can’t go on a whaling ship with the tribe, and I think comparing Native Alaskans’ ancient practices and culture to the white man’s wasteful and greedy hunting is insulting. One doesn’t blame the Sioux, Cheyenne, Blackfoot or Crow (and other Plains Indians) for the wasteful slaughter of buffalo, do they? I have very strong view points on Native American culture and how important it is to maintain and promote these societies. Whaling is a part of that tradition.
2. When I purchased the baleen, it came with clear notes on the captain of the whaling ship, where the whale was hunted, and for what village. I know, to the best of my knowledge, that poachers did not hunt this whale. I would not have purchased the baleen if there had not been documentation of the origin of the baleen.
3. I wear leather, eat meat, and I’ve even worked with fur. Though I questioned the use of the baleen, I wondered if it would be hypocritical of me to think one way, when I behave in another. I also know, that I don’t view this as a careless death. I’ve been raised to give thanks to the spirit of the animal that has given its life. Though that might not mean anything to other people, I at least know I’m grateful to the animal, acknowledge, and give thanks in the way I’ve been taught how. And when I’m standing in the sun working with the baleen there will be prayers said and thanks given.
4. There is no substitute to baleen. None. I’ve worked or have worn stays with wood, steel (spring and spiral), reed, and artificial baleen. There is nothing that compares to baleen. It is a material that humans have not been able to accurately reproduce. I will be able to give a better idea of this once I have worked the baleen into the 1/4” strips needed for my stays and not while it’s still in slab form.
5. This is not about pretty pretty dress up to me. My master’s dissertation was over stays and comfort. Baleen is a huge part of that. I hand sew all my clothes and construct them in the manner that was taught to me by the Milliners, Mantua Makers, and now Tailors at Colonial Williamsburg. This is about learning the trades, the history, and the methods used behind the clothes and culture I love so much. I handled baleen in the shop as an intern without any second thought, and I know the difference it makes. The more I know about how baleen works and why it was used will make me a better historian as well as with the construction of my garments. Like I said before, this is about the learning experience as well as the end result.
6. Living on my parents’ farm, with a well-established bonfire pit, plenty of tools and equipment needed to work the baleen has provided a perfect working environment. Once I move to my new residence, I probably wont have this opportunity for a very very long time.
I knew, with that original post, the subject of baleen would be controversial and understandably so. The use of baleen is not for everyone, but for me, this one time, I decided it was for me. Will I use baleen all the time? No. Definitely not. I have the resources to work with the baleen that I won’t anywhere else, I have already gone through all of this effort to construct the best pair of stays I can possibly make, and I feel that this is just an excellent time to learn and ‘go all out’.
I acknowledge and respect the differing opinions on this controversial matter. I ask that others with differing opinions will also respect mine. I believe I have given a clear explanation as to my decision on using baleen for my stays, and I hope that this answers any questions or concerns others might have.