NEAH BAY, Clallam County - The smell of burning rubber cuts through the saltwater breeze.
Teenagers spin their cars in dizzying circles in the general-store parking lot and scream "We're No. 1!"
in the brisk night air.
vibrates. Girls squeal. Boys laugh. Everyone is excited about Neah Bay High School playing for a Class B-8 State
championship tomorrow at the Tacoma Dome.
On the Makah
Indian Reservation, isolated on the northwestern-most point of Washington, the undefeated football team is just
one of the many blessings for the town of about 1,500. Isabel Ides, the tribe's oldest member, celebrated her 100th
birthday Nov. 13. Two little-league football teams won championships. And May 17, the Makah killed their first
whale in more than 70 years.
is the year for the Makah," said Marcy Parker, an administrative assistant at the Tribal Council.
But as the
tribe winds its way down Highway 112 in rented rooter buses or vans decorated with posters saying "Native
Power" and "Go Red Devils!" for the 4 p.m. game, their joy isn't always shared. Sometimes what awaits
them is reminiscent of segregation in the 1960s.
stating "Save a whale, kill a Makah" adorn protesters' cars. People throw things and scream obscenities
at the players. And before Coach Ron Johnson takes his team into a restaurant after games, he defuses any uneasiness
with a little joke.
serve Indians?" Johnson asks with a warm grin.
When the waitress
replies, yes, he teases: "Good, I'll take two."
just something to break the ice because there's still a lot of prejudice around," Johnson explains. "We've
sat and haven't been waited on before."
tribal tradition of hunting whales added to the tension the Makahs already sometimes face. Killing the female gray
whale brought pride to the community that eagerly wants to return to its roots, to the days it survived by fishing.
Yet, despite the 1855 treaty that allows the tribe to hunt whale like its ancestors, outsiders don't understand
not easy being Indian," said Mary Hunt, a Makah who's in her 25th year teaching at the school. "We have
a song we sing that's translated, `There is no one equal to our nation' and I tell the boys to put it in here,
had to deal with so much," Hunt continued, brushing back her black hair from the tears forming in her eyes.
"Especially this team, they've had to deal with so many harassments from the whale hunt: `You can't come in
my store or my cafe.' People picking on us, telling us we're not worthy. We're not equal . . . but we keep our
heads high . . . we are proud of our culture."
It's a culture
where football now is woven as deeply into the fabric of the community as the intricate baskets the Makah women
out for football
As the field
lights warm and beam brighter, more cars line up around the fences.
the lights is like calling people to a town meeting. Every Wednesday night parents and community members are drawn
in to watch the 25 players practice. And for Friday home games, the entire town seems to show up at the throwback
grass field with two wooden bleachers that hold maybe 100 fans and a rickety white press box.
place is pretty dead when we play," junior center Josh Buckingham said. "We get a lot of support. Whatever
the team needs, the community will be there."
dates back to the late 1800s, when the U.S. first tried to assimilate the Makah and confiscate their land. The
government forbade them to speak their language or perform their family dances and songs publicly.
were sent to government boarding schools around Washington and Oregon. The children were gone for nine months of
real sad during the holidays," said John Hottowe, a 76-year-old war veteran. "When the children came
back, they were like locust. They were running wild."
In 1932, Luke
Markishtun, Hottowe's father-in-law, donated about 10 acres of his land to the state to build a school for the
reservation. The state built and operated the school, and in its first year, 26 started first grade. Twelve years
later, only two graduated from that class because of World War II.
wife Edith was one of the women who graduated from Neah Bay.
thought my father was selling out," said Edith, Class of '44, who works with the Head Start program. "But
he had 10 children and wanted to keep the family together. Donating the land was the only way."
When the school
was erected, John said the community got involved in everything to show they supported their children and didn't
want them sent to boarding schools.
so happy to have them back," John said. "Anything they did - school plays, basketball games - we'd fill
the place up to watch them. And the streets were like a parade."
As the community
leaves town, they'll "honk-around" - a parade through the town with horns blaring. School for the 420
K-12 students will be canceled and the Makah Tribal Council is shutting down so that everyone can attend.
wear the red and black colors of the tribe and school. And some will sit in the band section with their drums to
sing tribal songs. They plan to ask the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to let the tribe perform
a special dance after the game - win or lose.
can get pretty rowdy," senior quarterback Daniel Greene said. "The football team is really important
to the community. It's a tradition and brings us all together."
from the past
cleat. That's all that remains of the 20-inch figure atop the trophy.
But this week
memories of the so-called "Finger Bowl" have breathed life into the dusty trophy hidden in the back of
Neah Bay's award case. This week the scuffed-up trophy missing the bronzed athlete that cradled a football proudly
in 1953 was moved to the front for all in the cafeteria to see.
the only football title we have," Coach Johnson said.
sport was introduced to the Makah tribe in the early 1940s, Neah Bay has always had successful football teams.
Johnson, a 1958 Neah Bay grad, said boys were expected to play football and some years the 30-plus boys in the
school would make three different teams - six-man, eight-man and 11-man - because the school was so dominating.
years, stretching through the 1950s, Neah Bay was undefeated.
teams wouldn't play us because we'd whip them so bad," said Ed Caplanhoo, a 1956 alum and former manager for
before the state adopted a playoff system, the school challenged anyone in the state to a championship. The University
of Washington's freshman team and every big school in the state was issued a challenge through the newspapers.
No one responded.
didn't even know where Touchet, a small farming town near Walla Walla, was located. Yet in late November 1953,
the team drove over the Cascades to play the undefeated team in Southeastern Washington.
there real late, but they woke us up at what seemed like 5 a.m. to do chores," said Blanchard Matte, who was
a backup quarterback in the game. "Here, we would call that an old Indian trick. For them, we called it a
farmer trick - to make us tired for the game."
After a big
country breakfast, the teams played in an early-morning game. Neah Bay won. The trophy was presented at a huge
feast after the game. The plaque reads "Neah Bay Ironmen 13, Touchet 6."
they called us Ironmen because we only had two subs for 11-man football," said John MaCarty, a running back
on the team. "They made a big deal out of it and had this huge banquet with hams, turkeys, corn, pies, cakes.
About four tables were plum full of food . . . more than anybody could ever eat."
years later, Neah Bay (10-0) is playing Touchet (11-0) again. This time, the undefeated teams will meet in a state-sanctioned
game at the Tacoma Dome, and Touchet is the defending Class B-8 champion. And there won't be a country buffet afterward.
old-timers are talking about that (1953) game," Touchet Coach Wayne Dickey said. "But they don't remember
too much because we were the losers."
Neah Bay was led by Chuck Davis, a feisty quarterback. On Friday, senior quarterback Daniel Greene will lead the
school into its first state championship game since losing to Odessa 74-28 in 1989 at the Kingdome.
is the biggest game we've ever played in," said Greene, his chestnut eyes sparkling. "It's going to be
exciting. I can't sleep sometimes. I have to try not to think about the game. But it's hard."
The icy wind
whips across the sand at 30 mph. The rain feels like tiny pellets on the players' skin.
the players run, some barefoot, along Hobuck Beach. In warmer months, they swim in the Sooes River. Johnson started
the traditions in 1981 because the players couldn't handle the monsoon-like weather during a football game.
Neah Bay played in 50-mph wind and driving rain against Oakville and won 54-6. Inside the dome tomorrow, they won't
face any inclement weather.
The team will
be a world away from its one-general-store-and-gas-station town with serene views of the Pacific and marina. Tomorrow,
Neah Bay will play in the 17,800-seat Tacoma Dome that could house its entire tribe.
believe we're playing in the state championship game," Greene said. "We talked about it in Little League,
but the time went by like that. Now, the world is going to be watching us because of everything that's happened
and we are going to show who we are."
Wall Mural at Neah Bay High School
Neah Bay Schools