With heads bowed and eyes closed, islanders and visitors from afar prayed as one for the orca captured from the waters of Penn Cove more than 45 years ago.
The crowded event at Coupeville Town Park honored the killer whale known by several names: Tokitae, Lolita and now Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, as announced by Lummi tribal members during Friday evening’s 2019 Tokitae Totem Pole Journey.
The long, wooden totem pole was created by carvers Jewell James and Doug James of the Lummi Nation and has been traveling throughout the U.S. since May 2018, including stops in Florida, California, Oregon and Western Washington.
“Thank you for including us in this journey,” Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes said to Lummi leaders for bringing the Tokitae Totem Pole to town and for raising awareness of local whales.
Throughout the nearly three-hour-long program, speakers from the Lummi Nation and Orca Network called for Tokitae to be brought from her current residence at the Miami Seaquarium and returned to the Salish Sea.
“We believe it’s time for her to retire,” Frederick Lane of the Lummi Tribal Council said.
Carver Jewell James spoke of the significance of tribal traditions and the interconnectedness of humans with the environment.
Humankind has a “bleak future if we can’t look up from distractions,” Jewell said, urging people to take note of what is occurring around them.
Music and songs were performed throughout the evening by artists including Swil Kanim, Peter Ali and Dana Lyons. Author Sandra Pollard read a peice about the now-famous whale, and members of the Orca Network also spoke.
Organizers parked the pole in the grassy lawn of the park, secured on a vehicle, periodically allowing children to climb aboard to peer into the wide eyes of the animals depicted on the pole.
After taking a moment to touch the pole and gaze at the painted orca, 9-year-old Jaymz Jarvis said he felt sad about what had happened to Tokitae.
“I just want the orca to be free. I felt very bad for it,” Jarvis said after spending a solemn moment looking at the carving. “I would never do such a thing to orcas.”
Orca Network organizer Susan Berta said her group estimates over 200 people attended the event.