Lummi Indian nation of Washington state calls for release of Tokitae (“Lolita”)

Submitted by the Orca Network

Representatives from the Lummi Nation of Washington State will join Florida gubernatorial candidate and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and other leaders to advocate for the release of the killer whale Tokitae (“Lolita”) from the Miami Seaquarium, following 48 years of confinement.

The Lummi Indians are a self-governing Nation whose aboriginal territory includes an area in the San Juan Islands that will provide a sanctuary for Tokitae.

In a Jan. 17 letter to Andrew Hertz, President and General Manager of the Seaquarium, the Lummi Indians requested a meeting to discuss her repatriation. The letter notes that the tribe’s team of experts have carefully reviewed her situation and are both concerned for her health and safety at Seaquarium and are confident she can be safely returned, rehabilitated, and reunited with her pod. The letter notes that a suitable sanctuary in the San Juan Islands has been identified and a comprehensive plan is in place for her transport and rehabilitation.

“She was ruthlessly taken from her family that lives in our traditional territory,” said Jewell James of the Lummi Nation. “She is not an “ambassador.” She is a captive and must be reunited with her family. “It is our xa xalh xechnging [sacred obligation] to do this.”

The killer whale, qw’e lh’ol’ mè chen in the Lummi language, is one of the Lummi’s eldest relations. The tribe has many songs, oral histories, and ancestral teachings about their spiritual connection, and their sacred obligation, to qw’e lh’ol’ mè chen.

The press conference will include the preview of a trailer developed in advance of a full-length documentary that will tell the story of Tokitae and her spiritual connection to the tribe.

The Lummi Nation will also unveil plans for their 9,000-mile, 30-day tour in 2018 of major cities, including Miami, to bring national and international attention to Tokitae.

Levine and the Lummi leaders join a growing chorus of voices across the US that include elected officials, tribal leaders, marine biologists, whale sanctuary managers, the faith-based community and nongovernmental organizations, who are demanding her release and her reunion with her pod in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Speakers will present at 9 a.m., March 13 March 13, on the issue, at the campaign headquarters for Philip Levine at 2215 NW 1st Place, Miami (Wynwood). Parking is available on all surrounding streets.

The “Bring Tokitae Home” trailer will be a short film explanation of the Tokitae story. It will include footage of the infamous 1970 capture of 4-year old Tokitae and 44 other Orca children in Penn Cove Washington, and her incarceration in a tank at the Miami SeaQuarium, where she has spent her last 48 years. She is the sole survivor of all the Orcas that were captured at that time. It will also include interviews with Lummi Nation elders, who will explain the spiritual connection between the Lummi Nation and the Orcas, and why they consider bringing Tokitae home to be their sacred duty. The Bring Tokitae Home project is being spearheaded by the Lummi Nation, and they have given it their highest priority.

They are determined to see it through to successful completion, and will not rest until this is accomplished.

Tokitae is a member of the Southern Resident Pod of Orcas, a group which for centuries been intimately connected to the Lummis, both geographically and ecologically. The Lummis and the SR Orcas occupy the same region of the Salish Sea, and they both rely on the Chinook salmon for their sustenance.

Tokitae’s mother (Ocean Sun, L25) is still alive and after 48 years apart, she and daughter Tokitae still sing their characteristic songs, unique to their native L Pod. After being returned to the Salish Sea, Tokitae will eventually be given the opportunity to reunite with her mother and family. Thus, the hope is that even after this extended separation, mother and daughter will be able to recognize each other, and Tokitae will be welcomed home.

Interviews with Howard Garrett, Kurt Russo, and several prominent marine scientists will describe the sea pen at Glenwood Springs, Orcas Island, that is currently being planned to facilitate Tokitae’s gradual release into a completely natural environment. In the meantime, a commemorative totem pole is being carved by the House of Tears Lummi carving community, and will soon leave on a 4000 mile “raise awareness” journey across the western and southern U.S., ending in Miami.

The film is being produced by partners Geoff Schaaf and Dennie Gordon, both Los Angeles based filmmakers. We anticipate that this compelling story will eventually morph into a feature-length documentary. The return of Tokitae is emblematic of a larger issue, that of restoring the environmental health of the Salish Sea, including the salmon fishery, and that of all the creatures that live there, human and animal. The Lummi Nation has one of the most respected, successful, and experienced salmon management programs in the Pacific Northwest, a food source critical for the Orca. By replenishing the salmon, we save the Orca, and by saving the Orca, we save a part of ourselves.

On the drive through Wynwood, along NW 1st Place between 22nd and 23rd street, take notice of the mural stretching 83.5 feet called “Free Lolita,” which pays homage to the captive orca. It was commissioned by Levine in 2015 and painted by artists Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky.

“Miami should be known for its vibrant culture, not for the smallest orca prison in North America,” Levine said at the mural’s unveiling. “This beautiful mural is helping make it clear that the Miami Seaquarium is no place for this far-ranging, majestic, and endangered orca, who desperately needs her freedom.”