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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Canadian Gov't regroups after "Luna (Tsuxiit) Rescue" debacle

On Wednesday, June 16, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans(DFO) set out to lead a 4 year old killer whale(Luna)into a pen before relocating it to an area off Puget Sound. The Whale was living off Vancouver Island, in the traditional territory of the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations.

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht call the area Yuquot(Friendly Cove).

They also had their own name for the whale, Tsuxiit.The Mowachaht/Muchalaht believe that Tsuxiit embodies the spirit of a deceased leader and they were opposed to the plans to remove Tsuxiit in the manner proposed by the DFO. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht felt the whale should not leave until the community had a memorial potlatch that signals the end of their mourning period which can last from 1 to 4 years. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht explained the reverence they hold for Orcas and why they opposed the DFO's tactics for removing Tsuxiit.

"The community affirmed their spiritual and cultural ties to Tsuxiit and resolved that the whale be treated with the greatest of respect in all aspects of its life and our life"

"For us there is a spiritual significance to it all," said Maquinna."Throughout our culture the whale and the wolf are very prominent mammals and animals in our teachings."

"It is unacceptable to the Muchalaht people that Tsuxiit be incarcerated in an aquarium if the experimental relocation fails"

"There is a power of the whale that has been offered to us," Maquinna said. "It is a story that needs to be told."

"We have consistently told people to remember to have high respect for the whale," Maquinna said.

Maquinnas' people first encountered the killer whale swimming alone in Nootka Sound the day after their elder chief, Ambrose Maquinna, died. He was Mike Maquinnas' father and one in an ancient line chiefs. Before his death, the chief expressed his desire to return to his people as a kaka win, or killer whale, a supernatural being of great significance to native people in both Canada and the United States. Killer whales are the enforcers of the natural laws of the sea, just as wolves are the enforcers on land, according to a written explanation issued by the Muchalaht community.
full article

The DFO's plans were to lead Tsuxiit into a net pen. After undergoing medical tests, he would then be put into a sling which a crane would lift into a container. The container would then be transported 200 miles, by truck, to the area of relocation. He would then be held in a pen until his pod swam by. It was hoped that he would swim out to meet them when released. If Tsuxiit failed to leave the pen, the DFO had a contingency plan to place him in an acquarium.

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht were concerned that Tsuxiit would be harmed or would likely end up imprisoned in an aquarium if the DFO followed through on it's plan. The band's chief, Mike Maquinna, proposed that they lead Tsuxiit to the relocation by canoes. It was felt this was a safer method and eliminated the possibility of Tsuxiit being put in an aquarium. The DFO rejected this alternative.

On April, 08, 2004, DFO officials met with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht council.
Questions of "What if" started to rise towards DFO and Vancouver Aquarium. "What if he doesn't take to his pod, then what?" asked Mike Maquinna. "What if he plays with the boats down there, then what?"

Marilyn Joyce(DF0) responded with, "I have to come up with a plan if he does not take to his pod in the next couple weeks, and the final decision will be coming from the Ministry."

"With your plans of removing the whale you are infringing on their religious beliefs and they (Mowachaht/Muchalaht) have met the requirements in documentation. Can you lay out all the options you may have?" said Roger Dunlop of the NTC Fisheries.

"Our first option is to help him reunite with his pod if they go by here. Our second option is to let him swim into a pen on his own, or third we use a tail rope to get him into the pen or finally enclose him with a net," said Joyce. "Being a sensitive topic of using an aquaculture pen we have had discussions with Conuma Hatchery to use one of their pens," said Marilyn.

"So you are going to do this regardless of what we say, aren't you?" said Jerry Jack.

Hesitantly Marilyn Joyce responded with a "Yes".full article

The DFO went ahead with it's plans to lure Tsuxiit into a pen. Unbeknownst to the DFO, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht had a plan of their own and had reached Tsuxiit first.
Plans to capture Luna the killer whale have been thwarted by First Nations protesters who have led the orca away from the pen set to trap him.

a group of aboriginals set out in war canoes on Wednesday morning and led Luna away. At last report, the whale was 10 kilometres down Nootka Sound.

CBC News reporter Alan Waterman reports the aboriginals are singing to the orca and using drums to lure him from the scientists on DFO boats.full article

Said Maquinna,"Some people see it as a protest. We don't. It's just some people getting in canoes and singing some songs and a whale happens to be about. We've done this for thousands of years."

After a few days, the DFO postponed their efforts to capture Tsuxiit, vowing to resume the effort the following week. They succeeded in leading Tsuxiit into an inlet on June 22.
Luna close to capture
WebPosted Jun 22 2004 05:16 PM PDT

GOLD RIVER, B.C. - The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has led Luna the killer whale into an inlet off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near the pen where scientists hope to trap him.

DFO spokesperson Marilyn Joyce says they are letting him get used to the area before trying to lure him into the pen. full article

However, the next day, Tsuxiit swam out of the underwater pen, located in the inlet.

Close, but no capture.

The elusive lone orca nicknamed Luna remained free last night, swimming in and out of an underwater net pen off the northwest coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island before swimming off to join nearby Indians paddling canoes

Yesterday, a trio motorboats from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, led Luna for several hours toward the pen, but the orca became distracted by the singing canoers and turned awayfull article

The next day, Tsuxiit again managed to avoid capture.
Luna continued to elude his Canadian captors yesterday, swimming with canoes paddled by Vancouver Island Indians who oppose plans to catch the wayward killer whale.

On Tuesday, officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were able to repeatedly lead Luna with motorboats into underwater net pens.

But each time, the 4-year-old orca slipped out before the net was closed. It appeared that Luna, known scientifically as L-98, thought the exercise was a game. He would even push the lead boat into the pen and then escape.

At one point, he corralled three boats into his presumptive cage before slipping away.

Capture efforts are expected to resume today, and government officials and Indian leaders are still in negotiations.full article

The DFO is now facing criticism for the debacle. Questions are also being raised as to why they ignored the First Nation peoples when they tried to work out a solution.
Forced to suspend the operation a week ago after running into stiff resistance from local Indians, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now being chastised by members of its own international advisory panel.

The plan to capture the orca, named Luna, was abruptly called off after a band of Vancouver Island Indians derailed the effort for more than a week by entering Nootka Sound in dugout canoes and drawing the whale to them by making a racket -- singing and banging paddles.

Critics say the aquatic tug of war waged by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band with the government may have been averted had First Nation representatives been included in the planning process, as recommended.

"The band has a legitimate grievance here," said Paul Spong, a member of the advisory panel and executive director of OrcaLab, a B.C.-based research group.

Some of the 17-member panel's independent scientists are also publicly questioning the underlying strategy calling for Luna's capture and urging consideration of an alternative reunification plan, including one supported by the Native Canadians. That alternative calls for leading the orca by boat from the northwest coast of Vancouver Island to the Puget Sound pod from which he became separated three years ago.

Although some responsible for the capture say the Mowachaht/Muchalaht protest was "unexpected," the band's position on the matter was no secret.

At least as early as last fall, Indian leaders told the government they were opposed to his capture. They said they had spiritual and cultural ties to Luna and wanted to be included in the relocation planning.

Spong said the government "heard what the band said and went along on their merry way -- and ended up in a situation where there were decisions made by (the government) exclusively, and the band was informed of the decision."

Now the $450,000 project is on hold -- the underwater net pens have been dismantled and the crew of some two dozen orca experts has departed -- while Fisheries and Oceans officials and First Nation representatives attempt to negotiate a solution.

"Mowachaht/Muchalaht went through the process of meeting with (Fisheries and Oceans) and writing (to) them and expressing their concerns, which were ignored at their peril," said Roger Dunlop, the band's fisheries biologist.

"You're starting to see some people asserting their rights," he said. "This was something that couldn't be tolerated."full article

Acting in a way that ignores the righs of Native Nations while dismissing their spiritual knowledge is nothing new for government officials. It's an attitude and behavior that leads to conflicts that could have been resolved, had Native people been given even a modicum of respect and treated as equals. Had the Mowachaht/Muchalaht not taken to the water, their aspirations would not even be a matter of discussion to Canadian officials. By doing so, they have gained the attention of Canadian officials as well as serving as an inspiration to Indigenous peoples who are tired of being ignored.


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