MIAMI — The Lhaq'temish people, also known as the Lummi Nation, have a history with orcas dating back thousands of years. According to Lummi Elder Raynell Morris, orcas are considered family members who live beneath the waves.
Since 2018, the Lummi Nation has been fighting to get Tokitae released from the Miami Seaquarium and returned to Washington waters.
“It's been a long journey," Morris said. "Her family is ready for her to come home. It's the healing of a family. It's the healing and reunification with her mother, her family, her relatives, and us. And in turn, that helps the Lhaq'temish people and a lot of Coast Salish people who hold [orcas] sacred to begin healing."
From the Salish Sea to Miami Beach and beyond, support for Tokitae’s return to Washington has come from Indigenous communities around the world.
“We reached out to eight different Indigenous tribes from around the world, and through translation said, ‘We know you have your traditions, your ceremony, your sacredness; share that with [Tokitae]. Pray for her in your way, how you do it,’ and they did from around the world,” said Morris.
Prayers came in from Indigenous groups as far as the Republic of Tuva, the sacred Irbistuu Mountain in Russia, the Eastern Steppes of Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and the sacred Olkhon Island in Siberia.
“I want to see her go home and be part of the water that she comes from," said Samuel Tommie, Seminole Tribe member. "Her soul is connected to the water that is in [Washington]. She needs to be part of what's there, the songs that are there, the songs that are there on the surface of the water, the soils that are deep in the water. She is part of that.”
On the beach outside the Miami Seaquarium, Tommie played a prayer song on his flute to send a message of healing to the orca.
“Nature has a great response to these sorts of frequencies,” said Tommie.
For years, the Seminole Tribe has been supporting the Lummi Nation’s efforts to get Tokitae back to Washington.
“It's very important that Tokitae goes home," Tommie said. "The spirituality of this land needs to be respected...I believe that the tribes need to follow this path and speak up to give voice to the natural world of this land and also to the globe.”
Back in Washington, prayer ceremonies for Tokitae, or Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut as she’s known by the Lummi, are happening more frequently since the news of her pending return. The ceremonies are often held at the sacred Lummi site Cherry Point, near Bellingham. The prayer ceremonies start with drumming, which represents Tokitae’s heartbeat, then the drummer/Lummi elder’s heartbeat and finally their shared ancestors' heartbeats.
“I visualized her when I come here. And I drum and I have the message and prayer session with her and I see her,” said Morris.
Recent sightings of several orca pods have created a buzz of excitement and destiny on Lummi land.
“J pod [orcas] been so active since the news broke that she's coming home,” said Morris.
Morris is one of the only people to get access to Tokitae since she was retired from public view last year. She’s been able to sing and pray with Tokitae on several private visits to the Miami Seaquarium.
“When I came home, I let her family know she's happy," Morris said. "[I thanked] them for being with me. So I wasn’t there alone."
Coast to coast, both groups hope Tokitae’s release has an impact beyond their shores.
“What Lummi Nation has done is that they have stepped up to the legal field and political arenas where the Tokitae is being spoken for," said Tommie. "Staff at Miami Seaquarium are saying, ‘She's our family. We are her family.’ It's that European-American mentality where everything is ours...If I touch this, this is mine.”
“Until she's brought home, that strand in the web of life won't begin to heal, won't be restored,” said Morris. “That's the most important thing so we can move forward, be a family, be a healthy community, be a healthy people, be together. It's that reunification of the family. There isn't anything stronger and more healing and more beautiful than that.”