Kurt Russo on The People Under The Sea/91

Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

It feels only right that we begin our “more-than-human” themed month of October in honor of the mother Orca, Tahlequah, who carried her dead calf on a “tour of grief” for more than a 1,000 miles over a 17-day period. It is a profound reminder that we share our place and experience with other beings that bear memory, whose capacity for love and loss mirror our own. It also highlights the uncertainty of the Southern Resident Orca's livelihood, and quite frankly the livelihood of our planetary community, if we continue to act with reckless abandon. There has not been a successful Orca birth in the Salish Sea since 2015.

This week we interview Kurt Russo who has worked on environmental issues, land preservation, and treaty rights with The Lummi Nation of the Salish Sea for 40 years. He is also the Executive Director of The Foundation for Indigenous Medicine and the former Director of The Native American Land Conservancy. He holds a BS and MS in Forestry and a Ph.D. in History.

The Lummi word “Elchnexwtex” refers to a time when all life forms were one and related, that was a time when the “black fish,” Orca’s and the "young ones,” the Humans, were one. The black fish, "qwe lhol mechen", are known as the people under the sea.

Dr. Russo and The Lummi people believe that Tahlequah carried her baby on the tour of grief because she knows we are watching. The display of her dead offspring in this way was an intentional act -- not only an act of grieving, but intented to stir an empathetic reaction from those who live above the water.

“The world we live in is in a deep crisis and the people who live above the water need to know they don’t own this place. We were gifted it. Until that is understood we will see more dead calves.”

This episode is a call to the human heart. The impassioned Kurt Russo, speaking on behalf of the qwe lhol mechen, is one that will imprint itself on your memory as a cold hard look into the mirror of humanity.

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