Author Tags: First Nations

Lelooska was a scholar and entertainer in the Pacific Northwest who spoke Chinook Jargon and was a student of the Kwakiutl language. Chris Friday's biographical study Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist (2003) examines the life and times of the mixed-blood Cherokee storyteller and dancer who, as an adult, was adopted into the Sewide clan of the Mamaleleqala and Qwiqwasutnox bands of the Kwakwaka'wakw by Chief James Aul Sewide. The hereditary rights, crests and privileges of the Sewide lineage were bestowed on Lelooska and his family in 1968 with a potlatch ceremony that was not without controversy.

Lelooska was born in 1933 as Donald Smith to Fearon and Mary Smith in Sonoma, California. His mother's family was Oklahoma Cherokee and his maternal grandfather, Enoch Fountain Hinkle, had toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Arising from a 'cowboy 'n' Indian' background, Don Smith received his name Lelooska at age 12 from the Nez Perce. It means "He Who Cuts Against Wood with a Knife". After initially producing curio items for sale to tourists and regalia for Oregon Indians, Lelooska had relationships with elders from a wide range of tribal backgrounds. As a performer of dances, songs and stories, Lelooska staged family programs for school audiences that attracted as many 30,000 people per year. But how authentic was his artistry? How much did authenticity matter? "Experimentation is part of our own ongoing education," he claimed. Chris Friday was a friend of the Lelooska family who conducted several interviews with him as a professor of history and Director of the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University. When Chief Lelooska died on September 5, 1996, his chieftancy was passed to his brother Tsungani. The Lelooska Cultural Center remains as an educational centre and museum, managed by the Lelooska Foundation in Ariel, Washington, about 40 miles northeast of Portland.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist


Friday, Chris. Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist (University of Washington Press, 2003)

[BCBW 2005] "First Nations"