Community gathers to celebrate life of Tokitae

A celebration of life was held Sunday, August 27, following the recent death of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, aka Tokitae, the last Orca whale taken from the Southern Resident killer whale population here in the Salish Sea.

Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut died of what is believed to be a renal condition in the Miami Seaquarium where she’d been held in captivity for over 53 years. An autopsy to determine cause of death was performed but it will take several weeks before results are provided.

Nearly 400 people gathered Sunday at Jackson Beach Park south of Friday Harbor to witness the ceremony, and an estimate of another thousand or more watched the event online from around the globe. What was originally scheduled as an installation ceremony suddenly became a celebration of life due to Sk’aliCh’elh’tenaut’s untimely death.

According to Lummi Tribal Leader Nickolaus Lewis who spoke during the ceremony, while Sk’aliCh’elh’tenaut’s death was tragic “the work shifts to protecting her family. Whatever we do now we do it for the future.”

The sentiment of the event was to celebrate the life of a unique whale, with several members of the Lummi Nation promising that “She is coming home, and she will not be forgotten.” Recent reports indicate the whale will be cremated and her ashes transported to the Pacific Northwest to be returned to her home waters.

The Port of Friday Harbor hosted the Lummi Nation, Se Si’ Le, and House of Tears Carvers to “celebrate the life of a great loss to the Salish Sea community, Sk’aliCh’elh’tenaut, Tokitae/Lolita.” The Port welcomed the community to join and witness this ceremony of song and story for Tokitae, and unveil the new Story Pole that traveled across the country to the Miami Seaquarium to raise attention to Sk’aliCh’elh’tenaut’s plight.