Rescues Boy at Sea
The Northwest coastal tribes have a number of legends about
orcas saving people. For example, see Linda Schildkraut’s
article in this issue on the myth and art of the
Tlingit tribe of southeast Alaska.
The Orca Project 2010 uncovered a recent case of an orca
rescuing a member of the Samish tribe.
The basecamp for Orca Project 2010 was in Cayou Valley on
Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. The
valley was so named for the first European who colonized
Orcas Island above the estuary that drains into Deer Harbor.
There he married a Samish Indian woman and built a homestead
that still stands amidst dozens of plum trees that bear
Today the property is owned by Bob Connor who is working
with People for Puget Sound to recover the estuary and
salmon run. Bob told us about Rosie Cayou whose
great-grandmother had lived in the homestead next to our
Denise Wilk of Orcas Island, who, with her husband Dan
operates Eclipse Charters, a whale-watching service,
attended a story-telling workshop on Whidbey
Island where she met Rosie Cayou, an elder of the Samish
tribe and an instructor at the workshop. Denise brought
Rosie for her first visit to the homestead of her
great-grandmother on Orcas Island.
Denise introduced me to Rosie who invited the Orca Project
staff to Samish Island where the tribal members were
convening to teach members tribal traditions including
language, ritual and arts and crafts. The camp where they
assembled on Samish Island was close to where I had
established years earlier a field research station for the
Orca Society which conducted studies of orca whales and
taught student interns from several campuses including
Evergreen State College, Western Washington University and
Skagit Valley College.
During our stay with the Samish people we interviewed
several elders including Rosie and her husband, Bill, a well
known totem pole carver. Rosie told us the story about her
great uncle who, at 11 years old, went out in a canoe with
another boy who was nine. The canoe capsized. The older boy
gave the other boy something that helped him to stay afloat
and reach shore.
The people of the village came to the shore to look for
Rosie’s uncle but saw no sign of him. While they were there,
an orca’s fin appeared on the horizon headed toward shore.
When the bull was closer the people saw something on its
back. As it approached shore the orca threw the boy
off its back toward shore then turned a tight, full circle
and came back to grab the boy in his mouth, came closer to
shore and spit the boy out.
Rosie said that all his life her uncle’s nickname was “Fish
Puke” because he had been puked onto shore by the orca.
|The event is heralded in Bill’s totem
pole near the Samish Tribe’s office on the edge of Anacortes
which depicts a boy riding on the back of an orca.
Rosie also recounted stories from her childhood of orcas
driving salmon into Samish nets.
Interview of Rosie and elders of other coastal tribes will
appear in the forthcoming TV production, “Orca Spell.”
Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D., Director, Orca Project
|Rosie Cayou and Bill, Samish elders