Friday Harbor, Wash. On Saturday, October 17, 2009, the Samish Indian Nation held a traditional potlatch naming ceremony for J-45, the newest J Pod calf in the Southern Resident Community of orcas.
The Whale Museum participated in the ceremony by providing ceremonial gifts for the attendees as well as a greeting by executive director Jenny Atkinson. The museum was asked to appoint a witness to the ceremony. Because of her role as the Orca Adoption Program Coordinator and the story keeper of the whales, Jeanne Hyde was named. Jeanne noted that, “It was an honor to be asked to witness.” Being a witness to the ceremony requires one to remember the ceremony and then witness to the gathering what was seen and heard. Witnesses also have the duty to pass on to others what they observed at the ceremony.
Blankets played a significant role in the ceremony. Each witness had a blanket placed over one shoulder. Four blankets were ceremoniously placed on the floor. A young person was appointed to carry the image of J-45, the orca calf to be named. For this ceremony, a young man named Jacob was selected and led the procession. Two blankets were placed on him, one on each shoulder. He then walked to the center of the blankets where words were spoken in the Samish language. Jacob then moved off the blankets with the image and slowly moved about the gathering 'introducing' this young killer whale to all in attendance. Proceeding behind him were reverent singers and drummers. When the ceremony ended, the framed image and blankets were given as gifts to honor others in attendance.
J-45's name was announced: Se-Yī-Chn (pronounced "sea-ee-chin"). This name means younger one. In the Samish language there is no name for brother or sister, but only references to older or younger with the emphasis always being placed on the older or elder ones. In his family group, Se-Yī-Chn is the younger one to Granny (J-2), Ruffles (J-1), Samish (J-14), Riptide (J-30), Hy'Shqa (J-37) and Suttles (J-40), as well as to all in J Pod. The Naming Ceremony promoted a feeling of community and commitment. Also in attendance, museum Board member Fred Felleman observed, "We all share in the responsibility to help assure that Se-Yī-Chn has a clean, productive and serene environment in which to grow up."
Se-Yī-Chn is now entered into the Orca Adoption Program where he can be symbolically adopted. Adopting this young calf or another whale in the Southern Resident Community supports the mission of The Whale Museum which promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea eco-system through education and research.
CORRECTION: Originally, we reported that Jacob was the grandson of Dr. Wayne Suttles. Unfortunately, Jacob was introduced incorrectly at the ceremony and is not Dr. Suttles' grandson. (Dr. Suttles spent his career working with the Coast Salish people. After his death in 2005, the Samish Nation honored Dr. Suttles by giving J-40 the name “Suttles” on October 6, 2005.)