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Monday, November 2, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rock-Throwing And Jeers In Battle Over Whaling -- Protest Group Decries Treatment By Tribe

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

NEAH BAY, Clallam County - Anti-whaling activists this morning blasted their treatment by Makah tribal police, who handcuffed four protesters during a confrontation that resulted in the stoning of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society's vessels and the seizure of one of their boats.

The scuffling escalated when Lisa Distefano of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society hopped ashore yesterday to accept a dinner invitation from Alberta Thompson, 74. Thompson is the tribe's only outspoken opponent of the Makah's plans to go whaling for the first time in seven decades.

Anti-whaling activists had been warned by tribal police that their boats would be confiscated and they could be arrested if they attempted to dock or come ashore.

"We are very shocked and appalled to see there is no law enforcement on the reservation," said Sea Shepard leader Paul Watson at a news conference this morning.

"Tribal police did nothing to stop the Makah from stoning our vessel and our people. We were acting fully within our First Amendment rights and were viciously attacked."

Clallam County sheriff's deputies boarded both Sea Shepard vessels this morning, assessing damage and taking statements.

Joe Martin, undersheriff for Clallam County, said an investigation is under way to determine if the inflatable Zodiac boat seized by tribal members was stolen. The legality of handcuffing protesters and escorting them away is under investigation.

Yesterday, a flotilla of whaling protesters exchanged shouts and insults with tribal members onshore over the tribe's planned whale hunt.

When Distefano hopped onto the tribal dock, she was pushed into the water by tribal member Norman Green. The crowd of about 50 Makahs erupted in roars, whoops and laughter as she emerged dripping from the cold, hip-deep water.

As Distefano slogged up the boat ramp, she was handcuffed immediately by tribal police and stuffed into a police car.

Her boat was pulled up onto the ramp by tribal members. Two other Sea Shepherd members aboard, Jan Cook of Seattle and Matahil Lawson of Tofino, B.C., were handcuffed and led to tribal police cars.

Tribal members beat drums, sang tribal songs and danced on the boat ramp as protesters countered with air horns and orca calls blasted over loudspeakers.

Ken Nichols, 29, of Hawaii, another Sea Shepherd member, waded ashore to retrieve the confiscated Zodiac and was grabbed by three tribal officers. They wrested him to the ground and handcuffed him.

Blood streamed from Nichols' forehead where it hit the boat ramp.

"I did not resist arrest," Nichols said. "I am not hurt. My heart is hurt. I came to get our property which is being used to save whales."

Tribal members yelled with delight as they hauled the Zodiac up onto the boat ramp. "It's ours, it's ours!" said Keith Johnson, president of the tribal whaling commission.

Whalers loaded the Zodiac onto a boat trailer and unfurled the flag of the Makah nation, waving it at protesters.

Watson said Lawson was careful not to let the boat touch the dock or the land, and that it was pulled ashore by tribal members. "It was stolen," he said.

Tribal police are supposed to detain nontribal members, not arrest them, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Lionel Ahdunko, chief of the tribal-police force, said the protesters were taken into custody for their own safety. All gave statements voluntarily to Clallam County sheriff's deputies, then left. No one was charged with any offense.

Watson said tribal police were too slow to act when about two dozen tribal children threw rocks, some as big as baseballs, as well as chunks of concrete and fireworks, and used slingshots to shoot fishhooks at protesters.

Three windows on one Sea Shepherd boat were broken, the running lights on one Zodiac were smashed, and five protesters were hit with rocks, Watson said. None needed medical attention.

Tribal Officer Eric Svenson said the police force was overwhelmed and that if Watson or other protesters felt threatened, they should have left the waters of the marina. He eventually asked the children to stop and they did.

Meanwhile, Thompson said this morning that Ahdunko told her she will be arrested if she sets foot on the town's main street or the marina.

Ahdunko blamed Thompson for starting the confrontation by inviting Distefano ashore.

"You are the one who escalated this," Ahdunko said to her. "You are that stupid." He promised to arrest her if she "incited" another confrontation.

As Thompson ate breakfast at one of the town's restaurants today, she said teenagers threw eggs and firecrackers at her car. She fears she may be banished from the tribe for the stand she has taken. The tribe's constitution allows tribal officials to expel anyone from the reservation deemed an enemy of the Makah.

She already has lost her tribal job, and says her dog was killed because of her outspoken opposition to the hunt. She said she invited Distefano to her home "because she is my friend."

Marcy Parker, vice chairman of the tribal council, said that after a community meeting last night, several Makahs had asked that Thompson be banished. Parker said she didn't known what action, if any, would be taken.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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