“Everybody gets excited when they find out they’re meeting a true Quileute. They’ve become like rock stars,” Quileute Nation spokesperson Jackie Jacobs says on the line with a laugh. Jacobs has just returned to La Push, Washington, from the Los Angeles premiere of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The Olympic Peninsula–based aboriginal community has experienced a dramatic explosion in tourism since the release of the Twilight movies, which incorporate characters (such as Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner), legends, and culture inspired by the Quileute Nation.
Jacobs, who is of the Lumbee Nation from North Carolina and was hired to represent the Quileute after Twi-mania erupted, says they had as many as 70,000 visitors last July.
“The Quileute welcome the world to La Push,” she says. “They just have one simple request, and that is that you protect their land and respect their culture.” A 20-minute educational video about the nation can be viewed at www.twilight-quileute.com/. Another Web site includes etiquette guidelines for visiting “Indian country”. There are currently 750 members, 400 living on the reservation. Only five members still speak the language.
Watch a trailer for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
Though Jacobs encourages fans to learn about the real Quileute culture, she says the Quileute aren’t overly concerned about how the they're depicted in the Twilight series. “The reality is that The Twilight Saga is fiction. It’s a figment of [author] Stephenie Meyer’s imagination. Therefore, the Quileute don’t look at that as any kind of authentic representation of their culture or their traditions, and they’re quite capable of speaking for themselves. They have a very powerful voice, and what they’ve done is taken this global spotlight and are using it for educational purposes, to tell the true story through their own words, their own culture, and their own traditions, their music, their dancing, and their oral stories.”
Yet Jacobs and the Quileute Nation members who attended the premiere were excited to see that Eclipse, which opens in Vancouver on June 30, features “a component of cultural storytelling that actually does have elements of truth”. She refers to a beach scene in which Jacob takes Bella to a tribal council meeting. “We were extremely thrilled and pleased that [director] David Slade and Stephenie did in fact, in Eclipse, incorporate components of true Native culture.”
However, Deanna Reder, a Cree-Métis assistant professor of First Nations Studies and English at Simon Fraser University, who isn’t bothered by the stereotypical elements in the film, does have some other concerns. “The trouble I really have is with the very common disregard of cultural stories of actual First Nations,” she says. “The Quileute”¦are a real tribe and La Push is a real place, and there is the real originary story of being transformed or descended from wolves. Yet no one imagines it as any kind of outrage to turn that kind of story into a werewolf story. But imagine if someone wrote a novel or a film in which Jesus was a werewolf.”¦But that’s not a consideration that’s given to First Nations culture.”
Reder thinks this blurring of fact and fiction has deeper sociopolitical roots. “If you actually say that the stories are sacred, then the implications for the indigenous land claims are right there. Much easier to make indigenous people a fantasy and exotic and something separate from real concerns.”
She theorizes that this may also be due to the story's being told from a non-Native perspective. “I thoroughly support the growing number of aboriginal writers in Canada,” she says. “They need more access to publishing or even to mentorship because the imagination will change as aboriginal artists create.”
As for how the Quileute are coping with the intense attention, Jacobs thinks they’re doing just fine. “This is a tribe who traces its ancestry back to the Ice Age, and people ask me all the time, ”˜Oh my gosh, what are the Quileute going to do when Twilight’s gone?’ And I’m thinking, ”˜Yeah, they do trace their ancestry back to the Ice Age. I think they’re gonna be okay,’” she says, laughing.