Enduring Legacies Native Case Studies

Case Study

Luna / Tsu-xiit the “Whale”: Governance Across (Political and Cultural) Borders

Author:Emma S. Norman, Ph.D., Northwest Indian College

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This case examines the multiple discourses (identities) created around Luna, a lone juvenile orca (or killer whale, Orcinus orca) in the remote waters off of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This case illustrates the complexities associated with managing “resources” that transcend both political borders (in this case, the Canada-U.S. border) and cultural borders (Western - non-Western). The case compares the experiences of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, which recognizes Luna (or, in the perception and language of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Tsu-xiit) as its chief incarnate, with those of governmental employees (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO) who are charged with the task of protecting marine life and habitat. The case illustrates how a single living being can hold multiple meanings to multiple people. In so doing, the story of Luna brings to light two main points: Modern conceptions of nature are constructed socially, and governance of shared resources requires an acceptance of diverse worldviews – particularly in the case Native and Western belief systems.

Updated: July 1, 2009