Narrated by the late Chief Tsilixw Bill James (Lummi), Master Carver Jewell James (Lummi) and Ta’ah Amy George (Tsleil-Waututh), this totem pole exhibition and award-winning film tells the story of the environmental emergency through the figure of the orca. It also tells the story of the leadership of Native Nations in protecting the Salish Sea, the orcas, salmon, and our collective future.
The exhibition has been viewed in museums and cultural centers across the United States–now it’s coming home to Lummi Nation. A custom-fabricated outdoor IMAX-style venue was created for it to be experienced with the Salish Sea as the backdrop, and the stars shining overhead.
View the exhibition and film from May 27-29, 2022 at the Lummi Nation Stommish Grounds during the Gathering of the Eagles canoe journey, Honoring Celebration of Master Carver Jewell James, and the Alliance of Earth, Sky, and Water Protectors Summit.
Whale People: Protectors of the Sea
Exhibition + Film by Lummi Nation and The Natural History Museum
Killer whales, or orcas, are a “miner’s canary” for the ocean. Their health indicates the health of the seas, the salmon stocks, the ancestral waters and way of life of coastal Indigenous communities, and the well-being of future generations.
The orca is among the most contaminated and critically endangered marine mammals in the world. From the Lummi Nation to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest are sounding the alarm, exposing the many threats orcas face, from outdated dams and depleted salmon stocks they depend on for food, to toxic pollution, sound pollution, and the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline that would bring 800 new oil tankers annually to the Salish Sea.
The House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation has been traveling with a 3,000 pound carved orca totem to raise awareness about the plight of the Salish Sea orcas–one of the Lummi’s most revered relations. Qw’e lh’ol mechen, the Lummi word for the orca, translates to “our people that live under the sea”.
Whale People: Protectors of the Sea features the orca pole, salmon carvings, and a seven-channel video installation that showcases spectacular underwater footage of the orca and the voices of Indigenous elders communicating a message at the heart of this totem’s journey: what we do to the waters we do to ourselves.
Whale People: Protectors of the Sea is a multi-channel film produced with Lummi and Tsleil-Waututh elders for an eponymous exhibition that tells the story of today’s environmental emergency through the figure of the orca. In 2020 it won an award in 3 categories at the Best Shorts Competition (Documentary Short, Native American /Aboriginal Peoples, and Nature /Environment /Wildlife), 2 categories in the Toronto Beaches Film Festival (best environmental film, best editing), and best environmental film at the Global Independent Film Festival. It is an official selection at the 2020 Cannes International Independent Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF), American Documentary and Animation Film Festival, Toronto Short Film Festival, Woodstock Museum Film Festival, Tacoma Film Festival, and Dreamspeakers International Film Festival, and it’s now part of the IFWW Educator’s Package used by teachers for 3rd grade to university and graduate level programs.