The Lummi Nation will celebrate the life of Tokitae, the Southern Resident orca that died in August, in a private ceremony in Bellingham Bay after her ashes are returned to the tribe this week.
The orca, who died unexpectedly Aug. 18 after five decades in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium, underwent an autopsy at the University of Georgia, where her ashes were “culturally and traditionally” prepared by members of the Lummi Nation, according to a statement from tribal officials.
Earlier this week, members of the tribe traveled to Georgia to prepare and collect her ashes, which were due to arrive today at the Bellingham Airport.
The tribe initially planned to host a public ceremony Friday, Sept. 22, but that event has been canceled. The tribe will announce plans for a public ceremony at a later date.
“Our community has been hit hard with an overwhelming amount of grief this week,” the tribe announced Wednesday. “We feel at this time we must come together as a Nation to wrap our arms around the families that are mourning the loss of a loved one. We will be taking care of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut as directed and set forth by our elders and ancestors.”
Members of the Lummi Nation said the southern resident orcas, including Tokitae, are their “relatives under the waves,” and they fought tirelessly to try to return the orca — also known as Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — to the Salish Sea for years.
Plans to bring the living orca to a private net pen somewhere in the Salish Sea were in development, but had not come to fruition.
On Saturday, the tribe will escort Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut’s ashes to Fisherman’s Cove in Bellingham, to be spread in a sacred spot in a traditional water ceremony, according to the tribe’s statement. There is no public or media access.
The ceremony will be private, and the U.S. Coast Guard will be present in the water to “ensure there is no interference,” according to the tribe’s statement.
Autopsy results were not available prior to publication.