Two with the tribe plan to sue the Miami Seaquarium

LUMMI — Two individual Lummi tribal members, Tah-mahs (Ellie Kinley) and Squil-le-he-le (Raynell Morris), have announced their intent to sue Miami Seaquarium and its parent companies for the repatriation of  Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut (Tokitae/Lolita), the orca whale that was taken from territorial waters in 1970.

This announcement was made on International Tokitae Day Saturday, July 27, and with the support of indigenous people who were already gathered at the Lummi Stommish Grounds for the Paddle to Lummi canoe journey. 

“She is my relative. Our word for orca is qwe ‘lhol ‘mechen, which means our relation under the waves. She’s like a daughter to me,” said Morris, a Lummi elder. “It hurts my heart that she’s been kept away from us and from her pod for so long. She needs to be back home, with family.”

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gives legal grounds for the suit, says the Lummi Nation, which also claims it never gave consent to, or was notified of, the captuure of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut in 1970. She has been held captive ever since at Miami Seaquarium, despite repeated requests by Lummi for a meeting and calls for the orca’s release and repatriation.

“We’re letting these corporations know that we’re serious,” said Kinley. “It’s wrong for them to be holding a living artifact that is so culturally and spiritually important to us. What happens to qwe ‘lhol ‘mechen happens to us. When they’re whole, we’re whole. She needs her family and her family needs her.”

A lawsuit has been vetted with experts of the Native America Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, said Dr. Kurt Russo, a strategist for the tribe on treaty and sovereignty protection.