Orcas, or killer whales, were once ubiquitous in the waters off Northwestern Turtle Island. These days, not so much. The Suquamish paid homage recently to honor their special relationship with the animals and to acknowledge a visit the tribe had received from these magnificent creatures while transporting sacred objects back to their rightful home.
This year, to open the Suquamish’s annual Tribal Journeys festivities, the tribe conducted a special ceremony honoring the orca. In the video below, tribal leaders explain why the honor was due. The circumstances were documented when they happened late last year. Here, tribal leaders tell the backstory.
“On the way back from salmon homecoming, we saw dozens and dozens of whales. Killer whales,” said Nigel Lawrence, Suquamish Council Secretary & Youth Canoe Skipper, recounting the miraculous sight on the video below.
First, he said, those on his boat saw another stopped, its passengers all standing on the deck, staring into the water.
"Then we were surrounded, and it was magical. It was amazing,” said Lawrence. “They were everywhere, all sides of us, for miles.”
It was a special day back in November 2013 as tribal members transported some 500 artifacts, many of them 2,000 years old, that had been taken 60 years earlier from the site of the home of Chief Seattle, or Chief Sealth, and had been housed at The Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus.
As the canoes holding the treasures made their way toward Bainbridge Island, the whales came in.
“The killer whales got closer and started dancing for us and breaching closer and closer, and everybody was just in awe that they were there,” Lawrence said. “Twelve canoes were on the water that day, so many Indians in one place, and killer whales all showed up. They were sent by the ancestors to say, ‘We see you. You're doing amazing things. Keep up the good work.’ "