Lummi Nation will honor orca Tokitae with private traditional ceremony


Lummi Nation will honor the orca known as Tokitae who died in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium in August with private traditional ceremonies in Bellingham Bay this weekend, tribal officials said Wednesday in an emailed statement.

Tribal members traveled earlier this week to the University of Georgia in Athens, where Tokitae's body was taken for a necropsy, "to culturally and traditionally prepare Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut's (Tokitae's) ashes for her journey home," the statement said.

Orca in the Pacific Northwest are central to the culture of the Coast Salish tribes that include Lummi Nation, who revere the orca as an ancestor.

Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut, known affectionately as "Toki," was the last southern resident orca held in captivity, at Seaquarium in Miami, where she was known as Lolita.

Captured off Whidbey Island in 1970 along with nearly 100 other orcas, Tokitae died as plans were being made for her live return to Puget Sound.

Tokitae's ashes were scheduled to arrive Wednesday at Bellingham International Airport, and private ceremonies were set for Saturday.

"(Tokitae's) ashes will be taken by boat to a sacred spot to be spread in a traditional water ceremony," the statement said.

Tribal officials stressed that this weekend's ceremonies are not open to the public, and the U.S. Coast Guard will ensure privacy.

"Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut will be honored with a public celebration of life at a date to be announced later," Lummi Nation officials said.