people wouldn't be surprised to learn that John Hottowe achieved
enhanced social status from a vast box of treasure. More unusual
is that the prestige came from what the Makah elder gave, not what
leader in preserving Makah tribal culture who taught ancient songs
and pushed to reintroduce ceremonial whaling, Hottowe, 80, died
last week from stroke complications. His family and friends said
he was a man who emerged generous and unscathed from a tough upbringing.
dad was extremely accepting and tolerant person, never bitter,"
said his daughter, Jean Vitalis, 53, of Neah Bay. "He gave
of his heart."
that, in part, is what his daughter called his box of treasures,
filled not with material wealth but knowledge and wisdom. The accounting
of Hottowe's life, she said, can be taken by examining his careful
accumulation of things in that box: the songs and dances of his
mother's culture; the unhurried tolerance of a mixed-race man born
money-poor; and a generous spirit that allowed him to pass his wisdom
and culture to another generation.
status (in the Makah Tribe) starts with this box of treasure, the
protocols of our people," she said. "That is his credibility.
That is his life."
life began on May 12, 1923, as John Hatva, the son of a Czech immigrant
and a Makah mother, both migrant farm workers. His brother and two
sisters spoke Makah to their mother and English to their father.
At school, the children were forbidden from speaking the tribal
schools often changed as his parents looked for work. When they
were home on tribal lands in the Olympic Peninsula, life wasn't
any easier, and tribal members distanced themselves from a Makah
who married a white man.
was a time when (tribal members) didn't feel that she should be
living here with her white husband," Vitalis said. Outside
the reservation, the opposite was true.
he never expressed any anger over that."
Rather, he became a passionate defender of his country, enlisting
in the military for World War II. He left the service as a decorated
veteran with more than 50 missions under his belt as a gunner and
radio operator in Navy bombers and torpedo planes. He once was shot
down during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
the war, he settled in Neah Bay and worked in civil service at the
Air Force base there. During these years, he began to expand his
vast and deep knowledge of not only Makah history but also all of
Pacific Northwest tribal culture.
the 1960s, we lost some of the older men," said Makah elder,
Ed Claplanhoo, 75, a longtime friend. "We started losing people
who carried on the vocal tradition. Several of the men took over
to preserve the singing and dancing."
was among them. By the 1970s, the treasure box had grown, and Hottowe
was known as a man who held the respect of the tribe. When he began
to notice that the young people hadn't stepped forward to learn,
to acquire the wealth of the box, he began teaching.
Wade Green, 32, was an eager student. His grandfather was close
to Hottowe -- the two wrote and learned tribal songs together --
and he considered the man a second grandfather.
started learning from him when my grandfather passed away,"
Green said. "He started guiding me."
said it was after those lessons when he awoke one rainy February
morning in Neah Bay with a song about humility in his head. He didn't
recognize it and assumed he had heard it somewhere in lessons.
he went to Hottowe for advice, it was then he learned that the teaching
had begun to pay off. "He offered me the advice that it was
a new song, a gift from my ancestors. He explained that how he composed
those years, Hottowe also worked with other Pacific Northwest tribes
and taught tribal culture classes at Evergreen Community College.
In the 1990s, he and other tribal elders -- some whose parents had
participated in the last hunt nearly a century earlier -- advocated
a return to isolated ceremonial whaling.
the objections of some animal-rights groups, the Makah caught and
killed a gray whale in May of 1999, six days after Hottowe's 75th
birthday. At the time, Hottowe was happy about the hunt but he expressed
some worries about the technique of the harpooner.
his three-part memorial service Tuesday -- tribal, military and
Presbyterian -- dozens of family and friends drummed to clear his
path to the other world. They knew that the treasure box again must
filled and emptied by another.
was our cultural and spiritual leader," Claplanhoo said. "He
was very instrumental in keeping the culture alive for many of the
tribes in the Northwest. If we lose that, we don't have anything."