Earth Law Center joins fight to free orca from 50 year captivity and bring her home

Pictured: Lummi Nation tribal member Squil-le-he-le - Raynell Morris.(Photo: Lummi Nation)

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Lummi Nation tribal members working for the release and return of captive orca

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Lummi Nation

Earth Law Center

The two Lummi Nation tribal members working for the release and return of the captive orca Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut (also known as Tokitae or her stage name, Lolita) announced yesterday that they will be legally represented by Earth Law Center.

"Our Lummi term for orca is qwe'lhol'mechen, which means our relations under the water," explained Squil-le-he-le (Raynell Morris), one of the Lummi women involved. "Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut is part of our community, our family. It's our Xa xalh Xechnging (sacred obligation) to bring our relation out of captivity at Miami Seaquarium, to bring her safely home to Xw'ullemy (the Salish Sea)."

Last July, Squil-le-he-le and Tah-Mahs (Ellie Kinley) announced their intent to sue Miami Seaquarium. Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut is a member of Sk'aliCh'elh, which is the Lummi family name for the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The Lummi people are bound by culture and kinship ties to Sk'aliCh'elh, and have been in a reciprocal relationship with them since time immemorial.

"She was taken from her family and her culture when she was just a child, like so many of our children were taken from us and placed in Indian boarding schools. Reuniting her with her family, reuniting her with us, helps make us all whole," explained Tah-Mahs.

“We are humbled with the trust that's been placed in us.” said Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at the Earth Law Center. “At the foundation of Earth law and the Rights of Nature movement is the Indigenous worldview that we are a part of, not separate from, Nature and all of its species and elements. By legally representing our sisters and brothers, we hope to shed light on this truth that has been lost from Western society."

Dr. Kurt Russo, who has spent decades working to indigenize policy frameworks, said, "This is a game changer. We're meeting Miami Seaquarium where they are, in the Western legal sphere. Earth Law Center is perfectly positioned to represent Tah-Mahs and Squil-le-he-le in their efforts to repatriate their relation."

"We're at a time when we all need healing," Tah-Mas added. "We're all family, qwe'lhol'mechen and Lummi people. What happens to them, happens to us."

At the press conference, which is now viewable on the Facebook page OurSacredSea and also on the homepage of SacredSea.org, 4 traditional witnesses shared words. These are the witnesses who were present last summer when Tah-Mahs and Squil-le-he-le announced their intent to bring Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut home. Alan Salazar, Jay Julius, and Sit Ki Kadem Doug James were able to be present at the conference. Witness Leonard Forsman, Chairman of Suquamish Tribe, sent this statement to be read:

"The Suquamish Tribe has a strong cultural and spiritual connection to the Southern Resident Killer Whales that call the Salish Sea home. We support and applaud the efforts of the Lummi Tribal Citizens who are seeking the return of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut to her family that bears the name Sk’aliChe;\’elh. I was humbled to be asked to witness the ceremony hosted by the Lummi Nation last summer at an ancient site of our respective ancestors. It is with the power of these ancestors that I support the efforts my friends and mentors Tah-Mahs (Ellie) and Squil-le-he-le (Raynell) in their efforts to reunite this family and begin to restore the balance necessary for the recovery of the Salish Sea for our fishermen, the Southern Residents and all who love these beautiful waters. Respectfully, Leonard Forsman, Chairman, Suquamish Tribe”

About the Lummi Nation

The Lummi Nation is a Native American Sovereign Nation whose traditional territories include many of the islands and coast of the Salish Sea. Our Reservation is located between Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA. Signatories to the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, Lummi has been a fierce protector of treaty rights. Our most recent victories include stopping a proposal for what would have been North America’s largest coal export facility and forcing a moratorium on Atlantic salmon fish farms. It is our sacred duty to protect the lands, waters, and communities of the Salish Sea. Families are sacred to us, and blackfish are our kin. 

About Earth Law Center

Earth Law Center (www.earthlawcenter.org) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental law organization working around the world to transform the law to recognize, honor and protect nature's inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. ELC partners with frontline indigenous people and communities to challenge the overarching legal and economic systems that reward environmental harm, and advance governance systems that maximize social and ecological well-being.

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(Image: Lummi Nation)
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(Image: Earth Law Center)
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