2019 qwe lhol mechen Totem Pole Journey: We Will Rise Again

By Judith Akins, Chairperson of the Mt Baker Group

In 1970, an orca named Tokitae was abducted from her pod as they swam in the waters of Penn Cove. Her captors used horrifying tactics to corner the pod, employing explosives to force them into waiting nets. Four orca died in the assault and 270 more were captured and sold to marine parks around the nation--including Miami Seaquarium, where Tokitae is currently being held. Since then, the Lummi Nation has been seeking Tokitae’s  release from Miami Seaquarium in hopes of returning her to her family here in the Salish Sea.

Each year the House of Tears Carvers, Jewell James and his family, create a totem pole that is  carried across the country to expose environmental injustices. This year's campaign was to protect and restore the Salish Sea, which stretches from Olympia, WA  to waters off Vancouver B.C. Canada - and coastal waters the Southern Resident Killer Whales call home. The Salish Sea and its wildlife are being threatened by the climate crisis , increased  marine vessel traffic, pollution and other stressors. In addition, Chinook salmon populations - particularly those in the Columbia/Snake River basin- are rapidly dwindling, threatening the lives of the Southern Resident orca that depend on them for sustenance And while Washington state  has committed to restoring the Southern Resident orca population, the threat to them is urgent and immediate.

Over the past two years, the Lummi have been attuned to the cry of Tokitae.  They journeyed over 7,000 miles to Miami (twice!) with the 3,200 lb totem to bring home Tokitae, whom they consider a cherished family member. Tokitae has been renamed Sk’ali Ch’elh-tenaut, a new name endowed to her this year by the Lummi in honor of the traditional native village name in Penn Cove. As of this publication,  the Seaquarium has refused to release Tokitae. She continues to be forced to perform tricks for tourists. Her only companion is a plastic blow-up orca doll.

The totem pole will be installed at the offices of the Lummi Nation this October, with prayers for the return of Sk’ali Ch’elh-tenaut.  We support the Lummi in their campaign to get the Miami Seaquarium to release Tokitae to her family, the orca of the Salish Sea.

Every night, when she is finally done performing, Tokitae  calls to her family with the song her mother taught her 50 years ago. She is alone, calling out to her family for help; it’s time we answered that call.

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