Twilight Fans Invade Tribal Lands

In La Push, Washington, the Quileute tribe has experienced a surge of tourism inspired by the Twilight series.

| November/December 2012

  • First Beach
    Despite a history of betrayals by non-Natives, the Quileute tribe has embraced the attention of today’s younger demographic, seizing the opportunity to showcase its surroundings and share its culture. The risk seems to be paying off.
    Photo Courtesy Bryn Nelson

  • First Beach

Five Quileute boys emerge from a phalanx of drummers. Barefoot and bare-chested, they wear black cloaks and wolf headdresses, and dance, crouch, and crawl within the center of a large circle. On the outskirts, women and girls move rhythmically to a chant and steady drumbeat, several of them sporting red and black capes emblazoned with orca or elk, thunderbird or hummingbird. Every generation is represented, from drumming elders to mothers teaching toddlers to follow their footwork.

No souvenir photos of this dance are allowed, only the chance to witness the traditional steps and songs that evoke the tribe’s spiritual kinship with wolves, whom K’wati the Transformer turned into the first Quileute people.

The Wolf Dance is at the core of the tribe’s identity, and marks the climax of a weekly drum and healing circle, held in the fishing village of La Push, Washington. This free event, a combination of religious ceremony, public exhibition, cultural exchange and communal catharsis, is remarkable not only for its community spirit but also for its openness to outsiders.

About 400 of the Quileute Nation’s approximately 750 enrolled members live in La Push, on a reservation that, until recently, measured only one square mile, surrounded by the Quillayute River, Olympic National Park, and the unpredictable waters of the Pacific Ocean. Historically, the tribe was known for its well-made cedar canoes and seal-hunting prowess. Small-scale commercial fishing is still a financial and cultural force, but with unemployment rates long exceeding 50 percent, tourism has become a new economic focus.



Five years ago, most tourists made the trek to La Push—a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle followed by a three-and-a-half-hour drive across the Olympic Peninsula—to fish, surf, kayak, bird-watch, or experience the epic winter storms slamming the rugged coastline. Then the blockbuster Twilight books and movies thrust the tiny reservation into the spotlight as the fictional home of werewolves battling vampires from the nearby off-reservation town of Forks. La Push doesn’t keep track, but the Forks Chamber of Commerce saw its visitors surge from less than 5,000 in 2004 to 19,000 in 2008 to 73,000 in 2010. Officials attribute most of the jump to Twilight, and say the trend is likely similar in La Push.

The Quileute tribe could have responded to the werewolf-vampire brouhaha by limiting access to their reservation. But La Push has a high regard for hospitality. “The Quileute have always been a welcoming tribe,” Tribal Council Chairman Tony Foster says. Despite a history of betrayals by non-Natives, the tribe has embraced the attention of today’s younger demographic, seizing the opportunity to showcase its surroundings and share its culture. The risk seems to be paying off.