Islanders Flock to “Whale People: Protectors of the Sea”

One of the exhibit’s 25-foot totem poles calls for the protection of sacred Indigenous places.

On July 10, Vashon Heritage Museum opened “Whale People: Protectors of the Sea,” an outdoor exhibit developed by The Natural History Museum with the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation, with close to 500 people in attendance.

Speakers for the event included Connie McCloud (Puyallup), Sit Ke Kadem James (Lummi), and Siam’elwit James (Lummi) and included drumming and songs from Sue and Israel Shotridge (Tlingit) and their family. Attendees also had a chance to view and touch two remarkable totems — a 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole and a 16-foot orca pole — and see an award-winning, outdoor IMAX-style film that is also part of the exhibit.

Douglas James and Siam’elwit, from House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation, brought the 5,000-pound totem to Vashon for one day only, as they embarked on a cross-country journey with the “Red Road to DC” totem.

The journey of the totem is a means to call for the urgent protection of sacred Indigenous places along the way, including Snake River, Bear Ears, Chaco Canyon and the Black Hills.

Ultimately, the totem will be delivered to the Biden-Harris administration, with an event on the National Mall and the opening of an exhibition about the Lummi’s totem pole journeys in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

The Orca totem and film will remain on exhibit at Vashon Heritage Museum through August.

The museum is open to visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. In addition, it will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so visitors can experience the Orca totem and see the film included in “Whale People: Protectors of the Sea.”

Narrated by the late Chief Bill James (Lummi), Master Carver Jewell James (Lummi), and Amy Ta’ah George (Tsleil-Waututh), the film tells the story of the environmental emergency through the figure of the Orca. The impetus for the film and creating the exhibit was the display of grief by Tahlequah, the orca mother who famously carried her dead calf for 17 days in 2020.

The Natural History Museum is a Vashon-based traveling and pop-up museum led by artists, activists and scholars. Its founders, Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones, moved to Vashon in 2018.

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