The Lummi Totem Pole journey for Tokitae reached its final stop at the Miami Seaquarium last month, but tribal members and fellow protesters, including Orca Network, were not allowed to enter the marine park. The Lummi Nation of Washington State traveled more than 3,000 miles cross-country from Seattle to Miami to raise awareness for Tokitae (also called Lolita), the last surviving member of the endangered Southern Resident orca community held in captivity.
Tribal members stayed outside the Seaquarium with their specially-carved totem pole, dedicated to Tokitae, singing and speaking to her in their language and playing her family’s calls. Tokitae was taken from her family in the infamous Penn Cove captures of 1970, and has been held captive for nearly 48 years. Estimated to be at least 4 years old at the time of her capture, she is now over 50, the age of the elder matriarchs and pod leaders in the wild Southern Resident population. She should be the matriarch of her own family now, but instead has lived in solitude, without the company of another orca, since 1980.
The Lummi Nation supports the ongoing effort to retire Tokitae to a sea sanctuary in her home waters, and recently joined the legal battle to secure her freedom. Tokitae was granted the same endangered species status as her family members in 2015, which has opened new legal avenues to improve her welfare and procure her retirement. The Lummi are now trying a new tactic, including Tokitae under the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty. They have received support from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a coalition of 57 tribes around the Northwest. The Lummi consider orcas as their kin (the quel lhol mech ten, the people under the sea) and view it as their duty to bring Tokitae home and return her to her family.
The Totem Pole made stops in major cities along its route to Miami to participate in events and blessings raising awareness for Tokitae, her family, and their plight. The Seaquarium continues to reject efforts to retire Tokitae and insists she is happy and healthy in the U.S.’ smallest orca tank.