Native Americans try to save killer whale from captivity

Lummi Nation blessing ceremony for the Tokitae Totem Pole Journey.
Lummi Nation blessing ceremony for the Tokitae Totem Pole Journey.
Lummi Nation blessing ceremony for the Tokitae Totem Pole Journey. Photo by David Arv Bragi.

On May 10th, I had the honor of attended a blessing ceremony for the Tokitae Totem Pole, a large traditional wood carving of a killer whale created in an effort to free a living whale from captivity.

Created by artisans of the Lummi Nation, a seafaring Native American tribe, this remarkable work of art has just embarked upon “The Tokitae Totem Pole Journey,” during which it will be transported by truck from the shores of the Salish Sea in Washington State to Miami, Florida, where it is expected to arrive on May 27th.

There, activists will seek the release of Tokitae, a killer whale (which the Lummi call a “blackfish”) currently held in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Captured and forcibly separated from her family in the Salish Sea forty-eight years ago, she has spend most of her life alone, performing tricks for tourists in a tiny artificial pool.

The Lummi want her returned safely to her traditional hunting waters, where she can live the remainder of her life in the natural environment for which she was born. The Journey is an effort to draw attention to the effort, which also has the support of other Native American tribes, the Orca Network, the Sierra Club, the Center for Whale Research,, other non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, philanthropists and concerned citizens.

“Tokitae’s abduction from her home should serve as a warning to all of us about the failure of policy
to protect the marine life of the Salish Sea,” said Jay Julius, Chairman of the Lummi Nation, in a public statement.

“She is a part of our precious ecosystem and a member of our Salish family,” he continued. “There are constant assaults on our lands and waters, whether it’s from the fossil fuel industry that puts profits over the health of people, animals and our environment, or from invasive species introduced to our waters that threaten the health of native species of salmon.”

Master carver Jewell James and Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers created the totem pole in honor of Tokitae. When standing upright, it is 16’ feet tall and and supported by two 8’ Seal Poles. It also includes images of Native women, representing the tribe’s close traditional and cultural relationship with the region’s whales.

Lummi is a Native Sovereign Nation whose traditional territories include many of the islands and coast of the Salish Sea. They have a sovereign government and reservation in Whatcom County, Washington State, where many of their citizens still fish the local waters and work to protect its ecology.

The Journey’s route and schedule is as follows:

  • THURS May 10th- 6pm • Seattle WA
  • FRI May 11th- 6pm • Tacoma WA – First Methodist Church
  • SAT May 12th-10am • Portland OR – Billy Frank Jr. Conference Room at Ecotrust Headquarters, Portland OR
  • SUN May 13th- Redding CA (no event scheduled)
  • MON May 14th- 7pm • LA, CA, Mulholland Club (Invitation Only)
  • TUES May 15th- 5pm • San Diego CA, Sycuan Cultural Center
  • THUR May 17th- Tucson AZ
  • FRI May 18th- Sonora TX
  • SAT May 19th- 4pm • Huston-Tillotson University, Austin TX
  • SUN May 20th- 9am • San Jacinto Battleground State Park, Austin TX
  • MON May 21st- Baton Rouge LA
  • TUES May 22nd- Ocala FL
  • FRI May 25th- 12pm • Miami Beach High School, Miami Beach FL
  • SAT May 26th- 10am • Miami Circle, downtown Miami
  • SAT May 26th – 6pm • Florida International University
  • SUN May 27th- 9am • Virginia Keys Park, Miami FL (Across the street from the Seaquarium)

You can learn more about Tokitae and the Journey on two websites, Our Sacred Sea and Totem Pole Journey, and on Facebook and Instagram or by calling (360) 391-7560.


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