A sacred quest to bring a lost child home

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

With song and prayer, Lummi Nation carvers ask for the release of one of their sacred creatures.

Tokitae—as she was named by her captors—was taken in 1970 from Penn Cove at Whidbey Island and has been at the Seaquarium in Miami ever since. There, she is known as “Lolita” and performs tricks for tourists. She has been captive for 47 years.

The Lummi want her to be freed. They’ve carved a totem pole in the shape of an orca and are carting it across the country to demand that the Seaquarium bring her back to Puget Sound for release.

Lummi carver Jewell James designed and carved the totem pole for Tokitae. It’s a horizontal, 16-foot orca with her tail flipped over her back, resting on the backs of two harbor seals.

“Then you see a human figure holding onto the dorsal fin, riding the back of the whale,” James explained. “That’s the whale rider. It’s part of a mythology that’s up and down the West Coast here, where the humans are trying to experience the power of the whale and be accepted by them.”

“In our language, qwe lhol mechen translates to our relative under the water,” said Jay Julius, chairman of the Lummi Nation. “She is a member of our family and it is our sacred obligation to bring her home to the Salish Sea. She was forced out of her home waters to live in isolation far away from her family. Her story is the Lummi story and the story of so many Native peoples across the country.”

Tokitae was taken from her family, the L-Pod, who still reside in the Salish Sea. It is also believed that Tokitae’s mother is still alive and the tribe is working to reunite her with her child before she dies.

“Our children were taken from us to break their ties to their families and culture,” Julius said. “So many of our elders and tribal members, as Native children, were forced into boarding schools. They were homesick, desperate to be with their people and families again. Tokitae still responds to her mom’s songs—we know she wants to be back with her family.”

Last week, the Lummi Nation received the support of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI). The coalition of 57 tribes from Alaska, California, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Washington support Lummi’s work to bring Tokitae home to the Salish Sea, where she will be rehabilitated and safely reunited with her pod. On May 26, members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe joined the Lummi at a blessing ceremony that took place at Miami Key Circle.

Chairman Julius said the fight to bring Tokitae home is just part of the tribe’s ongoing fight to defend their ecosystem, noting the Lummi Nation are also fighting to protect the salmon of the Salish Sea from invasive species, road culverts blocking salmon passage and industrial pollution.

“Our entire way of life has been threatened by bad policy that has upset the entire ecosystem of the Salish Sea,” Julius said. “Our relative, Tokitae, was taken from us with total disregard for her ties to her family and her role in the Salish Sea ecosystem. The salmon, the waters, the marine life—all of it is in delicate balance, and we need better policy that protects it. Because we are only as healthy as the salmon, the waters and the lands we rely on to nourish and protect us.”

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