Celebration of life for Tokitae to take place in Friday Harbor

Aug 25, 2023, 2:24 PM

Tokitae celebration life...

The orca Tokitae (MyNorthwest file photo)

(MyNorthwest file photo)

Plans are underway to honor the Southern Resident killer whale Tokitae, who lived for decades at the Miami Seaquarium, amid concerns about the way the whale is being handled.

Tokitae died last week as the Lummi Tribe was working to bring her back to live with the pod in the Puget Sound she was taken from, which included her mother,.

More on Tokitae: Beloved killer whale dies at Miami Seaquarium

The whale’s body was hastily moved to the University of Georgia for a necropsy to determine the cause of death. The tribe, which considers the whale family, was not notified.

Lummi Nation Chair Tony Hillaire told KIRO Newsradio he has since talked with The Dolphin Company that owns the Seaquarium.

They explained that because the whale’s life had been improving and the death happened suddenly, the necropsy needed to take place immediately.

“They clarified that to us, which is understandable,” Hillaire said. “It’s just tough when we feel like we’re her relative and want to be included in those discussions.”

He did not want to comment on a report from The Seattle Times report that Tokitae’s body is now sitting in barrels at the university. He said that would be like putting her on exhibit again.

“We don’t want there to be negative thoughts and ideas about her,” Hillaire said. “We don’t want to put her on display anymore.”

Tokitae, under the name Lolita, performed at Miami Seaquarium for decades after she was taken from the waters of the Salish Sea in 1970.

Hillaire said it’s an experience not unfamiliar to indigenous people.

“For people to come and kidnap her from her home, from the water when she was just a baby, parallels the boarding schools. I mean people coming (to) Indian country and taking our kids and trying to take away our identity, to kill the Indian and save the man,” Hillaire said.

As the The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition explains in the Education section of its website, “Between 1869 and the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were removed from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools operated by the federal government and the churches..” Later in the piece, the organization notes the children “were punished for speaking their native language (and) banned from acting in any way that might be seen to represent traditional or cultural practices …”

But Hillaire said with trauma comes resilience and that Tokitae’s plight has made her all the more important.

“Her bringing us together, different perspectives and cultures and histories and backgrounds so that we can look into ourselves and figure out how we can be better,” Hillaire said

And he stresses that, ultimately, Tokitae will be coming home.

Earlier Tokitae coverage: Lummi Tribe calls whale’s return home ‘righting a wrong’

The tribe is working with the Dolphin Company and the university to have Tokitae cremated, and Hillaire said that there will be a cultural, sacred ceremony either before or after her cremated remains are flown back to western Washington.

“Those details of our cultural ceremony, it’s sacred, and we cannot share,” Hillaire said.

But he says there will also be a celebration of Tokitae’s life that will be open to the public at Jackson Beach Park in Friday Harbor Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. A totem pole will be erected as a permanent memorial.

Follow Heather Bosch on Twitter or email her here.

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Celebration of life for Tokitae to take place in Friday Harbor