November 16, 2009

Twilight series thrusts Quileute Tribe into spotlight

Most people out there, whether they want to be or not, are probably vaguely aware that the second movie installment of the Twilight saga, New Moon, opens soon. Those who live in Washington State may also know that the books and movies of the Twilight series take place in Forks, Washington, which is a real town on the Olympic Peninsula. And those who are familiar with the story know that in addition to sparkly, romantically-inclined vampires, the Twilight books also feature a band of werewolves as primary characters (as seen in the promotional poster to the right). And in the story, those werewolves are all members of the Quileute Tribe, a real culture whose reservation is located in the small coastal town of La Push, which isn’t far from Forks.

Having now been made famous by the on-going, pop-culture phenomenon that is the Twilight series, the Quileute have found themselves thrust in the global spotlight as their reservation has become a tourist destination for thousands of middle-school age girls and their families who may or may not be on the lookout for actual werewolves. In response to their instant popularity, the Quileute seek to inform potential visitors to Forks and La Push about their culture and about the misrepresentation of them as werewolves.

So what does the Burke Museum have to do with any of this? As a museum of cultural heritage, we encourage respect for and understanding of all living cultures in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Quileute. Our curator of Native American ethnology, Deana Dartt-Newton, has therefore partnered with the Quileute Tribe and the Seattle Art Museum to develop several educational tools to inform Twilight fans about the real Quileute culture – a culture that indeed has a wolf origin story, a historic relationship with the wolf as demonstrated in songs, stories, and various art forms, but whose people most certainly do not transform into werewolves even on an occasional basis.

Stay tuned for more details about these projects, but in the meantime, Deana has excitedly reported that Summit Entertainment is flying the Quileute Tribal Council out to Los Angeles for tonight’s New Moon premiere. Let’s hope they enjoy the show!