Our Sacred Sea

for a living Salish Sea

The Lummi word for killer whale is qwe lhol mechen, meaning, the people under the sea. Right now, the resident killer whale population of the Salish Sea is in peril. Recently, Tahlequah, a 20 year old mother, carried her dead infant aloft for 17 days and over 1000 miles in a mourning ritual so prolonged and public it seemed designed to get our human attention, to make us see how our actions are hurting the world. Another member of J-pod, Scarlet, is so hungry that at four years old, she’s only the size of a two year old, and her head is shaped like a peanut. Tokitae, of L-pod, has been kept away from her family for many years at the Miami Seaquarium.

Qwe ‘lhol mechen. They’re killer whale people, we’re human people. We are all part of a larger community. When somebody in our community is hungry, we feed them. When a child is separated from her family, we work to reunite that family. And so, Lummi Nation is working to feed J-50, to bring Tokitae home, and protect our resident Salish Sea qwe ‘lhol mechen.

The Salish Sea is our sacred sea, and it is our obligation to help protect and restore the life, cultures, and communities of this place.

Tokitae’s return is part of our larger vision to protect and revitalize the Salish Sea: read Lummi Nation Chairman Jay Julius’s op-ed for the Bellingham Herald, May 11, 2018.

Media: Please call Kurt Russo at 360-961-4554 for interviews. Please see our Media Resources page for downloadable photos and other information.

Watch the trailer for the feature-length documentary film being made about our effort to repatriate Tokitae.

Please read Tokitae's story –and ours– here…


In 1970, a number of baby blackfish were captured from the Salish Sea, the islanded body of water nestled into the coastlines of southern British Columbia and much of Washington State. Blackfish have language, tools, complex social organization, emotions, culture, memory. As the babies were lifted by helicopter out of the water, they and their families shrieked. To this day, the resident blackfish avoid Penn Cove because that’s where their children were stolen.

One blackfish stolen from L-pod in Penn Cove is still alive. She is now 51 years old, and has been held in a tiny swimming pool at the Miami Seaquarium for the past 47 years. She is a revenue stream for her owner, performing twice daily for the public. Her stage name is Lolita, though her trainers call her Toki, short for Tokitae, a Chinook name given to her when she was first captured. Lolita/Tokitae is not only alive, she is strong and healthy. Lummi Nation has been called to bring her home.


Blackfish, along with salmon, are an iconic species of the Salish Sea. In the Lummi language, the word for blackfish (also called orca, sea wolves, and killer whales), is qw’e lh’ol mèchen. A literal translation of this is “our relations who live underwater.” Lummi tradition acknowledges blackfish as kin. We are family. Lolita/Tokitae belongs to L-pod, she belongs to the Salish Sea, she belongs to our larger sense of family here. She belongs to herself: she has the inherent right to be home and to be free. Repatriating Tokitae is Lummi Nation’s sacred duty.


Some think that one reason Lolita/Tokitae is such a survivor is because her tank is a stone’s throw from the ocean. She can hear the waves, and smell the ripe ocean life. She remembers where she came from. Tokitae still sings the L-pod song. Like a person –or a community– that’s seen hard times, she has survived because she knows who she is and she has hope. We recognize that humans and governmental policy allowed blackfish families to be ripped apart, just as humans and governmental policy have allowed human families to be ripped apart. We realize that we must understand the truth and the past, and we must tell those stories, in order to create a healthy future. In celebrating Tokitae’s resilience, we celebrate our own.


Tokitae is an ambassador of the Salish Sea, and of our efforts to revitalize this sacred sea. By tradition and by treaty, Lummi is a rightful protector of this place and the life of this place. Our effort is about more than a single blackfish, more than a single blackfish family. It’s about healing in different ways. On a practical level, our work includes restoring salmon runs and the Salish Sea so that all of us, as well as Tokitae and her kin, can live in an abundant and vibrant ecosystem. We are committed to protecting the lifeways and culture of Lummi, and honoring the larger ecosystem of which we’re all a part. Lummi Nation’s Salish Sea Manifesto affirms the Cultural Significance of this place, and calls for its recognition as a cradle of life and civilization that needs to preserved for the peoples who call it home, and for all peoples who call this earth home.

Bring Tokitae Home

Some of our valued allies in our effort to bring Lolita/Tokitae home include other Tribes, the Orca Network, the Sierra Club, the Center for Whale Research, Stand.earth, Pyramid Communications, Zakarin-Martinez PR,  non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, philanthropists and concerned citizens. Please join us! Your tax-deductible donations will directly fund a comprehensive plan for Tokitae’s transport, rehabilitation, and safe home back in her natal waters. Your love will help spread our message. Hy’shqe!


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