A Participant’s Experience in the Samish Naming Ceremony for Orca Calf J-45

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The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor runs a contest to name the baby orcas as part of their Adopt a Whale program. These names are varied and run the gamut from calves being named for sweets (Oreo) to local personages (Mike, for Dr. Michael Bigg – one of the original scientists to study the orcas in the wild), but the naming of calves born to one of the females in the J-2 matriline (J-14) is reserved for the Samish Indian Tribe.

The Samish are part of the Coast Salish First Nation Community, who have lived in this region for thousands of years, and they consider orca whales to be members of their tribe. The naming of the calves is important to them, and Jeanne Hyde, coordinator for the whale adoption program, was honored to be invited to participate. Jeanne is also a dedicated whale watcher, and posts her observations as well as beautiful photographs on her informational and often entertaining blog.

Jeanne shares her experience of the naming ceremony:

By: Jeanne Hyde, San Juan Island

I felt honored when I was asked to speak about J-45 at the Samish Indian Nation potlatch naming ceremony. I had a prepared speech, along with images, that glimpsed into the first eight months of this young whale’s life.

It was beyond words when, just before it started, I was asked to be one of the four witnesses of the ceremony. It was explained to all in attendance that being a witness meant that each person needed to pay attention to what occurred and speak to the gathering at the end of the ceremony, telling what took place. It was also our responsibility to share the meaning of the ceremony to others for the rest of their lives.

The Ceremonial Blanket (Photo by Jeanne Hyde)

Blankets played an important role throughout the ceremony. Blankets signify purity of heart and that the name for J-45 came from the hearts of the Samish people. [The following is a correction from the original post, apparently there was a mix-up during the introductions at the ceremony. I have eliminated the incorrect information.] I was in awe of the significance of (a young man named) Jacob carrying the image of J-45 around the room, introducing this young whale to all in attendance.

Then J-45’s name was given: Se-Yi-Chn (pronounced “sea-ee-chin”) means ‘younger one’ in the Samish language. There is no word for brother, sister or sibling, but only ‘older one’ or ‘younger one’ with the emphasis always being placed on respect for your elders.

I felt a part of the Samish community during the ceremony. I feel honored to have been given the responsibility to share Se-Yi-Chn’s name and meaning.

It is a name full of wisdom and power and it gives my heart joy to share this experience with others.

Jeanne added the following notes when I asked her how J-45’s mother J-14 came to be named ‘Samish’:

“The naming of the whales has evolved over the years. Back in the ‘beginning’ and I can’t really say exactly when, many of the whales received names related to Native Americans or tribes, such as J-17 Princess Angeline who is named for the daughter of Chief Seattle (Sealth), which the city of Seattle was named. Also Lummi K-7, who died last year, was named for the Lummi Tribe. Lummi had no offspring to be named.

Many were given place names such as J-8 Spieden for Spieden Island or names related to the marine ecosystem. Others were given names totally unrelated, such as J-2 Granny.

……Once the Samish Tribe was officially recognized by the U.S government, it was only right for the Samish to name the calf (Hy’Shqa) born in 2001. Since then and into the future they will name all calves born to the J-14 matriline, which included ‘Suttles’ (J-40) in 2004, and now Se-Yi-Chn (J-45).”

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