There was rejoicing at the birth – the first in the family in more than three years. But within a half-hour, the joy turned to sorrow, and for more than two weeks this past summer we watched and mourned with her, as she carried her dead infant. For a thousand miles, she carried the tiny body, growing weaker herself. On the 17th day Orca J35, dubbed “Tahlequah” – the Cherokee word for “just the two of us” – by the media, released her baby to its watery grave.
Kai Huschke watched and grieved, too.
“This is preventable!” he insists.
Huschke is an organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. For the last year he’s been working with local San Juan Islands residents through their group, Community Rights San Juan Islands, to secure legal rights for the Salish Sea.
“That means changing how we see Nature. It means seeing Nature not as a ‘thing’, seeing Nature not as property, but seeing Nature as actually having rights,” he explains. “We as people have to defend the Rights of Nature, the natural ecosystems, the natural communities.”
The plight of the Salish Sea orcas, most specifically the southern resident pod “has become that ecosystem’s most visible symptom of the effect of the practice of “human exceptionalism.” Listed as “endangered” in 2005, these magnificent mammals – icons of the Coast Salish tribes – have steadily declined in numbers, from a census high of 98 in 1995, down to 74 today.
The death of Tahlequah’s baby was followed closely by the death of a juvenile orca from the Southern Residents due to malnutrition. Why are orca starving to death? Because of a lack of Chinook salmon, the pod’s preferred food source. This led Washington state’s Governor Jay Inslee to form a task force to study the problem. There were calls to remove the Snake River dams and halt whale-watching tourism. Just last month, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation announced nearly $750-thousand in grants to help the pod stabilize and recover, which included funding for increased production at salmon fish hatcheries.
All of these ideas – while helpful – amount to not much more than treating particular symptoms and not seeing the full complexity of the Salish Sea and all that has put that ecosystem in peril, Huschke explains. The underlying issue of the continuation of seeing and treating people as both separate from and superior to nature – whether to harm or help – perpetuates a destructive myth of life.
“The legal system that we have today is not only insufficient, but is actually responsible for undermining the health of the ecosystem – whether you talk about the orca, the salmon, ocean acidification, or other aspects of climate change,” he says.
Huschke, members of the San Juan Islands Community Rights group and their allies, champion the needed cure: establishing Rights of Nature in enforceable laws – for the Salish Sea, and for all of Mother Earth.
“Something happens. There’s a moment. There’s an experience. There’s a culmination of things, and you arrive on the other side. There is this sort of transformation that happens, and this realization that happens, that not only can there be a different way, but that there HAS to be a different way.”
Champion that different way with CELDF and our partners of the San Juan Islands – donate today. Help us advance the Rights of the Salish Sea to exist, flourish, and evolve.
Here’s what your help can do in 2019:
- $25 covers postage for 100 Common Sense newspapers.
- $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
- $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating residents on Community Rights.
- $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities.
- $500 allows us to provide 10 scholarships to community members to attend a Community Rights workshop.