Chief Dan Lelooska

Lelooskaportrait


When I was in the third grade, my class went on a field trip to Kalama, Washington to visit Chief Dan Lelooska.

 

 

Lelooska was a Native American artist and historian. He lived in a traditional Northwest Coast cedar dwelling, he carved totem poles and masks, he told stories, he performed ceremonies.

 

 

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Native American culture in southwest Washington state was moribund. The original nations – Chinook, Klickitat, Wasco, Chehalis – had been scattered, assimilated, relocated. We were taught that there’d been a colorful Native culture before the white settlement; we colored pictures of Sacajawea and ate pemmican and learned to spell “travois”; but the reality was nowhere to be found.

 

 

Except in Chief Lelooska’s cedar lodge.

 

 

I remember him as a big cheerful man who told us stories. I don’t remember the stories, but I remember the thick smoky atmosphere in the lodge, and the carvings all around us, and the dancers. One dancer came out dressed as a raven, wearing a huge wooden mask with a two-foot-long jointed beak; once in a while he’d pause right in front of us, wings outstretched, and snap that huge beak at us, and it made a loud clapping noise. When you’re seven years old, a six-foot tall raven is scary

 

 

But also sort of fun, and very memorable.

 

 

Finally it was time to go. “Now,” Chief Lelooska said, “you go home and tell your parents that you’re mothproof. You’ll see. They’ll think it’s pretty funny.”

 

 

And I did.

 

 

And, as Chief Lelooska predicted, they thought it was hilarious.

 

 


 

 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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