Lummi Nation’s Canoe Journey to Bring Tokitae Home
Written by: Ann Dinthongsai & Jennifer Duann Fultz
Have you ever heard about Tokitae? She is an orca who was taken from her home in the Southern Salish Sea (Puget Sound) half a century ago. Hundreds of people recently gathered in support of the Lummi Nation’s mission to bring her home to the Pacific Northwest. I was honored to witness this show of unity and purpose.
A Sad History
A third of the Southern-resident orca population was taken from the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s and sent to “marine parks” throughout the country. Sadly, Tokitae is the only survivor of that group. She has lived captive at the Miami Seaquarium for nearly fifty years, where she is known as Lolita.
An evening public rally, held at Plaza Roberto Maestas, brought together a crowd of supporters. Hitched to the back of a large truck, a 16-foot hand carved totem sat waiting patiently at the entrance of the plaza. The totem depicts a rider on a black orca whale perched atop two seals.
First, Salish Tribe members Bill Streud and Connie McCloud told Tokitae’s story. We heard about her deep loneliness and the searching cries of her mother, who is still alive and a part of the L-Pod. Tribe members smudged the totem with cedar during the opening remarks. Earthy sweet smoke curled around the painted wood and blew over the crowd. Finally, we all put our hands upon the totem together. During a Salish song of prayer we sent our love and wishes for the long journey ahead, and for the return of Tokitae.
On their canoe journey this year, the Lummi Nation will make efforts to secure the freedom of Tokitae. Their wish is to bring her back to her native home. They will travel for 25 days, paddling from Bellingham down to San Diego, then cross country to Miami. Bearing the symbolic hand carved totem, they will travel over 9,000 miles on their mission.
Hope for the Future
Through the long years of Tokitae’s captivity, the Lummi Nation has been working in collaboration with the Orca Network, Center for Whale Research and Sierra Club on a transportation and rehabilitation plan to make sure they can successfully reintroduce her to the wild.
I am always inspired by the power and strength that come from people and groups who stand up for their beliefs. It is incredibly fulfilling to see Plaza Roberto Maestas, a site designed by The West Studio to be inclusive, culturally relevant, and accessible, host such a gathering centered on social justice. This is truly what our work at The West Studio aspires to be: building places for communities to thrive.