Lummi Nation cancels weekend tribute to Tokitae due to ‘overwhelming week of grief’

Sep 22, 2023, 7:30 AM | Updated: 7:52 am

Trainer Marcia Hinton pets Tokitae, a captive orca whale, during a performance at the Miami Seaquar...

Trainer Marcia Hinton pets Tokitae, a captive orca whale, during a performance at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami in the 1990s. (File photo: Nuri Vallbona, Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

(File photo: Nuri Vallbona, Miami Herald via The Associated Press)


The Lummi Nation has decided to cancel this weekend’s tribute to Tokitae due to what they say is an “overwhelming week of grief.”

The Orca whale died at the Miami Seaquarium last month while they were preparing to move her back to the waters of Puget Sound.

Following a necropsy, she was cremated, and her ashes were returned to the Tribe.

The Lummi Nation was preparing to hold a private ceremony for the cremains this weekend.

Instead, KIRO 7 TV reports the Tribe will hold a public memorial for Tokitae at a later date.

Original 9/21:

The ashes of the southern resident killer whale Tokitae arrive in Bellingham Wednesday. The ashes are flying in from Athens, Georgia, where a necropsy was done after her sudden death last month.

The Lummi Nation, which considers whales family, plans to welcome Tokitae in a private, traditional ceremony.

‘She came home not physically but spiritually’: Tokitae’s death sends powerful message

Tokitae, also known as Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut among the Lummi Tribe, died even as plans were being finalized to bring the killer whale back to the waters where she was captured in 1970 and shipped to the Miami Seaquarium. She performed there for decades under the name Lolita. Tokitae was the last southern resident killer whale held in captivity.

Tokitae’s life sparked controversy on both coasts. When she died at the Seaquarium, protesters gathered shouting “Shame on you for what you’ve done!” as the whale’s body was transported from the facility in a truck.

In the Northwest, the Lummi tribe had always insisted that Tokitae’s place was back here at home and was looking forward to her return.

More on Tokitae: Lummi Tribe states whale’s return home is ‘righting a wrong’

The tribe said the orca’s ashes will be escorted by tribal police to Bellingham’s Fisherman’s Cove, where they’ll be taken by boat to a sacred location and spread in a traditional water ceremony.

The Lummi Nation stressed that the ceremony will be private, but Tokitae will be honored with a public celebration of life, at a later date. The U.S. Coast Guard will be present to ensure there is no interference with the private ceremony.

Contributing: KIRO 7

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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