Lummi Nation’s new fight to bring orca Tokitae home

SEATTLE-- It's been 50 years since the southern resident orca Tokitae was taken from her family in the Salish Sea and became known as Lolita, a main attraction at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.

"We don't recognize her name as Lolita. That's a showgirl name placed upon her by her slave members," said Sit Ki Kadem (Doug James), a part of Lummi Nation.

"No one should have to spend 50 years in captivity," says Tah-Mas (Ellie Kinley).

After unsuccessful attempts to bring her home, two tribal members of Lummi Nation, Tah-Mas and Squil-le-hel-le announced a new partnership with a nonprofit environmental law organization called Earth Law Center.

"We do believe there is an ethical and moral obligation. We do believe whole-heartedly that orcas, Tokitae in particular, they're not objects for profit. They're living things, they're family and subject to having rights," said Ocean Rights Manager Michelle Bender with Earth Law Center.

Bender said previous lawsuits have been unsuccessful because they have fallen under federal mandates that did not consider Indigenous rights or the rights of orcas themselves, both areas of law Earth Law Center plans to pursue.

This time around, Earth Law Center plans to challenge the legal system, not work within it. A lawsuit has yet to be filed against Miami Seaquarium, but Bender hopes to have a clear plan of action by August, the 50th anniversary of Tokitae being taken.

Members of Lummi Nation are confident 2020 will be the year of her release.

"That's the word that I've been given from our ancestors, that this is her year to return," said Squil-le-hel-le (Raynell Morris).

Sit Ki Kadem (Doug James) hopes to reunite Tokitae to familiar waters again soon.

"Lets bring her home, lets give her peace of mind back, that she can hear the song of her pod again, and let her taste the water that she long remembers from long ago as the little one."