MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Thursday marked 50 years of Lolita's arrival at the Miami Seaquarium and members of the Lumni Nation traveled across the country to hold a ceremony asking for the orca's release.
The Lummi Nation is a Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest region of Washington State.
They held a live-streamed virtual event bringing global Indigenous voices together with those from the worlds of education, Western science, and law, all standing in solidarity with Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut (Lolita).
Lolita has lived at the marine park since 1970.
The Lumni content that Lolita is part of their Salish Sea family.
"Our Lummi Nation passed a motion in 2017 to support work to bring her home. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians then passed a Resolution to confirm the same. Tah-Mahs and I are simply carrying on the work we have been called to do. Estitem-sen (we're trying our best). It is our Xa xalh Xechning (sacred obligation)," said Squil-le-he-le (Raynell Morris).
The orca term for the Lumni is qwe'lhol'mechen, which means "our relations under the water."
"Sk'aliCh'elh-tenuat is a sacred family member to the Lummi people, and so the Miami Seaquarium's failure to return her to the Salish Sea runs afoul of their Indigenous rights," said Grant Wilson, Executive Director & Directing Attorney of Earth Law Center, which represents Tah-Mahs and Squil-le-he-le. "This campaign seeks justice for both endangered Southern Resident orcas and neglected Indigenous voices."
"Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut is an amazing whale," said Jeff Foster, of the Whale Sanctuary Project, who has helped to end the captivity of a number of cetaceans internationally. "We are providing our technical expertise to help the Lummi bring her home. The Lummi ancestral knowledge of what is best for Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut, her family, and the Salish Sea, can be supported by science so that this effort is done in the most responsible way possible."
"There's a lot of hurt in the world right now," said Tah-Mahs (Ellie Kinley), one of the Lummi contingent. "Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut is a symbol of hurt in the past, and hope for healing in the future. She's showing us how ancestral teachings guide us to healing actions. Upholding our Indigenous rights is good for everybody, because protecting the earth is good for everybody."
CBS4 reached out to the Miami Seaquarium for comment, but have not yet received a response.
Lolita is a 7,000-pound whale that has spent nearly all of her life in what the People of Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) says is the smallest orca tank in North America.
Lolita was caught on August 8, 1970 in Penn Cove, Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington when she was about 4 years old. She was later sold to the Miami Seaquarium.
For years, Animal rights groups have wanted Lolita moved to "a protected cove sea pen," where she can be transitioned to the ocean.
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