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Luna's Cultural Significance

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

There is an overriding misconception being maintained by the news reports covering the DFO/Vancouver Aquarium’s reunification plan for Luna. As the owner and captain of the ANON, the only vessel engaged full-time in the attempt to locate Luna’s family (Phase A in the DFO plan), I have since May 1st spent hundreds of hours on the waters of Nootka Sound looking for L-Pod. I have had many opportunities to speak with and observe the First Nations people, and I have formed the opinion that this misconception needs to be corrected.

Most news reports have been worded so as to lead the public to believe that the First Nations people are opposed to the idea of reunification, and that they are simply ‘interfering’ with the DFO/Vancouver Aquarium’s otherwise flawless plan. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Above all else, the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations people want to see Luna free. Free to reunite with his family naturally. Free from capture, free from sea pens, free from dorsal tags, and in the most extreme case, free from a life of captivity in a public aquarium.

The Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations people believe that Luna should be allowed to stay in Nootka Sound as long as he wishes to remain. Although the L-Pod chose to come down the inside of Vancouver Island this year, his family normally comes down the west coast, swimming by Nootka Sound on their way to their summer feeding waters in the San Juan Islands. They fully expect that one of these years, the time will come when Luna will reunite with his family. All they ask is that we allow him the freedom to choose his own timeline, not one forced upon him by man.

The news reports have also glossed over the reasons why the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations people believe so deeply in Luna’s freedom. For example, it has been widely reported that the First Nations people believe that the spirit of Chief Ambrose Maquinna resides within Luna (or Tsu'xiit, their name for Luna). This is tossed about on the news reports like a small trinket of curiosity, but never as a topic of discussion in and of itself. Belief in Luna’s freedom is just the tip of a very, very deep system of beliefs.

That when a great leader dies, his spirit returns to his people in the form of a wolf or an orca (the wolf of the sea) is just one such belief. That Chief Ambrose Maquinna told his friends and family, just days before he died, that he wanted to come back as an orca - and that Luna arrived in Nootka Sound within days of his passing - this is not seen as coincidence to the Mowachaht / Muchalaht people.

This is seen by the elders of the community as proof that their culture can still exist in today’s modern world.

It is important to recognize that the orca (or kakawin in their language) hold a very special place in Mowachaht / Muchalaht culture. These people have lived on this island for over 4000 years, and have traditions and beliefs centered around the orca which easily pre-date Christopher Columbus and the earliest of the Viking explorers.

Another such belief is that when an orca decides to start a new pod, first a male scouts out a new territory. This is analogous to observed behaviors in wolves and countless other species. Despite the fact that the Pacific Northwest resident orca are the most well studied marine mammals the world, and that such a belief runs counter to modern biological theory, who are we to say that Luna isn't doing exactly that? Luna has already provided an amazing case study in the life of a solitary orca. The recordings and observations made by Orcalab are one of a kind - completely unique in the world of science. If allowed to continue for as long as Luna remains in these waters, who knows what we will learn? Could it be possible that Luna, in the next year or two, may bring with him some females from J or K pod and start a new West Coast Resident Clan? Do we really already know everything there is to know about Orcinus Orca, or is it possible that this lone kakawin, Tsu'xiit, may yet teach us something new?

Like so many other indigenous peoples, the elders of the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations people are striving for ways to teach their children of their history, traditions and culture, and they believe that Luna is here to help them in this quest.

And in this spirit, the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations people have taken to their traditional dug-out canoes each day at 5:00 AM, and are still on the water past midnight. They spend all of their time on the water in song, and in prayer. The song they sing was the favorite whaler’s song of the departed Chief Ambrose Maquinna. His grand-daughters are on those canoes, singing and praying alongside other members of the community. For nine days in a row, the DFO has attempted to capture Luna. For nine days in a row, Luna has chosen to stay with the Mowachaht / Muchalaht people. He appears happy, even joyous, in their company. He hears their song and comes directly to them, often breaching alongside them in their canoes. To all who participate, this is a deeply spiritual experience.

Ultimately, the Mowachaht / Muchalaht people, just like you and I, want to see Luna reunited with his orca family. This is why Chief Mike Maquinna gave the ANON permission to conduct the search for L-Pod from Friendly Cove (Yuquot). He has even offered to give nature a helping hand by leading Luna back to his orca family via a historic canoe journey down the west coast of Vancouver Island. The soft approach didn’t work this spring, but it might this fall or next spring. It might even take the year after that, but ultimately it will work. The position of the First Nations people has always been this: be patient, let nature take its course.

Luna has survived, even thrived, here in Muchalet Inlet. He has learned to hunt, has made friends (with certain humans and even one sea lion in particular), and appears to be in excellent health. The actions this week of the First Nations people prove the depth of their love and respect for Luna. If allowed to do so, the First Nations people would be loving care-takers until Luna does reunite with his orca family.

Luna is known by the many people who have lived with him during these past three years to be a gentle and loving spirit. He deserves - at the very least - our best efforts to ensure his continued freedom. The Mowachaht / Muchalaht people believe to the depths of their culture that Luna should remain free. By taking to their canoes, they are putting their beliefs into action. They deserve - at the very least - our understanding and our respect. But they deserve even more. They deserve our thanks and our help, for in their attempts to keep Luna free, their actions speak for us all.

Keith Wood
s/v ANON

Yuquot, 2004

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