Art For Indigenous Survival

Quileute of LaPush, Washington 2002


LaPush, Washington
February 2002

The tenth teaching trip of Art for Indigenous Survival sent Irma and I to Washington State, the Olympic forests, and the Pacific Ocean where we met the extraordinary Quileute people. It is believed that the Quileute have inhabited this area of the northwest coast for over 9000 years (4000 before the Egyptian Empire). We began teaching in the Health and Human Services building and from the beginning we had enthusiastic workers - Pam, Tom, Nancy, Lela Mae, Jackie, Nellie, Marion, Beverly, Margaret, Ann, Nola, Patrick, Rosie, Bertha, Eileen, Cathy, Bonita, and Lois. We began with wrens, then moved on to slamon, ravens, camas, orcas and bald eagles.

The Quileute people were exceptionally warm and friendly. They invited us to the basket classes, the birthday celebrations, the Wednesday night potluck and drumming sessions, and a Potlatch in honor of Rusty Black. He had passed away a few years back, and his widow, Margaret (from our class) and the Black family hosted the event which began with a welcoming ceremony, opening prayers and the feeding of about 250 people. The floor was quickly cleared and the ceremony began with the entrance of the military honor guard, some drumming, a cleansing of the circle and a welcoming speech by Chief Russell Woodruff. Then beginning with the tribe coming from the greatest distance, each group sang, danced, drummed and gave away blankets, baskets, and dollar bills to honor Margaret, the Black family and many people present. Food was served again and the dancing, drumming and giveaway continued into the night. After all of the visiting tribes had finished their contributions, each of the families from LaPush presented their tributes concluding about midnight with the Cleveland family dancing and the Black family give away. It was an amazingly memorable 13 hour party.

As the last week rolled around, ravens were named for fathers. Eagles were being completed. Nola proudly claimed that this was the first project she had ever completed. Everyone who had finished, pitched into help each other complete their pieces. Banana slugs were trapped by Lela's eagle. A camas flower bloomed beside Marion's raven. A salmon was caught by Pam's eagle and Jackie's raven collected clam shells.

On the final morning, a breakfast feast was prepared, the group pictures taken, and the chief and tribal council members emceed the honoring and giveaway speeches. After four hours, the tribal school drummed a journey song for us. Tom offered a prayer for a safe trip and we headed home to North Carolina with many warm memories of the Quileute people of LaPush, Washington.