Orcas attack a whale off Oregon coast. Its death is a ‘blessing’ for a local tribe

On May 6, an 18-foot gray whale calf lay lifeless on Tish-A-Tang Beach in southern Oregon, its body covered in gashes.

The marks were from orca teeth — likely from an attack only hours earlier, locals surmised.

The following afternoon, the tribal relations representative with Oregon Parks and Recreation realized this massive animal may hold cultural significance to the local Coquille Indian Tribe, a nation that has lived in southern Oregon for thousands of years.

That thought was right. After the call, Coquille locals jumped into action, heading straight for the beach.

“We are going to do what our people have done for thousands of years,” tribal member MJ Parrish said in a May 9 statement on OregonToday.net. “We are going to celebrate this blessing we have received. We are going to respect this great gift and utilize everything we can.”

Coquilles have traditions surrounding fish and wildlife, especially on their ancestral lands of the Bandon coast of Oregon, where the whale was found. To them, this whale arriving on their shore is a gift from the creator.

In the statement, Tribal Chair Brenda Meade said the community has plans for a ceremony and full use of the whale’s body.

“We will make certain not to waste its sacrifice,” Meade said. “To our knowledge, this is also the first time in generations that our tribe has been able to experience this kind of ceremony. So, this is a truly wonderful gift. And not only for the whale blubber and the bones that we will be able to use.”

Before the 1800s, the Coquille Indian Tribe thrived for millennia on 750,000 acres of land in modern-day Oregon. Then, westward expansion, gold mining and European diseases took that land and nearly erased the community. In 1954, the U.S. government declared the tribe “terminated,” only to reverse that in 1989, according to the Coquille’s website.

The Coquilles have been rebuilding ever since. Today, there are more than 1,100 members of the Coquille Tribe, and they have regained more than 10,000 acres of ancestral land that were previously taken away, keeping the majority of that acreage as sustainable forest.

“We are still here,” the website reads.

“As we prepare to celebrate 35 years since being officially restored as a federally recognized tribe, it is so important that we are able to take this opportunity for the cultural education of tribal members and especially for our youth,” Meade said.

On May 7, tribal members used a crane attached to a truck to lift the whale off the sand and move it home to Coquille Nation, according to a post from Elijah Chisley on Facebook.

It was a big, messy job, but the prevailing sentiments of the day were pride and community, according to Chisley’s words above the photos.

“Made some history today with my cousins, wife, and kids,” he said.

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