[lg policy] Sucking the Quileute Dry

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 8 16:33:32 UTC 2010

Sucking the Quileute Dry

Published: February 7, 2010

Los Angeles

ALL the world, it seems, has been bitten by “Twilight.” Conservative
estimates place revenue generated from Stephenie Meyer’s vampire
chronicles — the books, movies and merchandise — in the billion-dollar
range. Scarcely mentioned, however, is the effect that “Twilight” has
had on the tiny Quileute Nation, situated on a postage stamp of a
reservation, just one square mile, in remote La Push, Wash. To
millions of “Twilight” fans, the Quileute are Indians whose
(fictional) ancient treaty transforms young males of the tribe into
vampire-fighting wolves. To the nearly 700 remaining Quileute Indians,
“Twilight” is the reason they are suddenly drawing extraordinary
attention from the outside — while they themselves remain largely
excluded from the vampire series’ vast commercial empire.

Just last month, MSN.com issued an apology to the Quileute for
intruding on its territory while videotaping a “Twilight” virtual tour
in September. MSN.com sought permission from the Chamber of Commerce
in nearby Forks, Wash., but didn’t pay the same courtesy to the
Quileute. The video team trespassed onto a reservation cemetery and
taped Quileute graves, including those of esteemed tribal leaders.
These images were then set to macabre music and, in November, posted
on MSN.com. The tribe quickly persuaded MSN.com to remove the Quileute
images. But this was only one episode in the story of the tribe’s
phenomenal, and apparently increasing, new fame. “Twilight” has made
all things Quileute wildly popular: Nordstrom.com sells items from
Quileute hoodies to charms bearing a supposed Quileute werewolf
tattoo. And a tour company hauls busloads of fans onto the Quileute
reservation daily. Yet the tribe has received no payment for this
commercial activity. Meanwhile, half of Quileute families still live
in poverty.

It’s important to point out that the outside uses of the Quileute
name, from the “Twilight” books to the tattoo jewelry, are quite
likely legal. American intellectual property laws, except in very
specific circumstances, do not protect indigenous peoples’ collective
cultural property.

In fact, many businesses use tribal names without involving the
Indians themselves. Consider, for example, well-known products like
Jeep Cherokee trucks, Oneida flatware and Apache helicopters — none of
which are officially associated with Indian tribes. (The Quileute say
they have never been contacted by Ms. Meyer or any of those who use
the Quileute name for merchandising.)

The most significant federal law that addresses the marketing of
Indian cultural goods — the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, passed in 1935
— is meant to ensure truth in advertising. It requires that any
artistic products claiming to have a tribal origin are in fact
produced by that tribe. Hopi kachina dolls, for example, must be
Hopi-made. But it does not come into play for the Quileute hoodies,
jewelry or other goods, because there is no claim they were made by
the Quileute.

So what can be done? Even absent legal protection, the Quileute should
be able to have a say in, and benefit financially from, outsiders’ use
of their cultural property.

Many Indian tribes develop markets for their own cultural property —
or at least the part of it that is not deemed sacred and therefore
private. Some have introduced culturally appropriate commercial
products — Navajo rugs, for example, or Potawatomi porcupine-quill
earrings — to educate non-Indians about their traditions or to earn a

The Quileute are likewise eager to share their tribal culture, even if
the interest in it was created primarily by Hollywood. The Quileute
welcome outsiders, as my own interactions with them have confirmed.
When hordes of “Twilight” fans showed up in La Push in 2008, the
tribe, as a sovereign Indian nation, could have closed its
reservation, but tribal members chose not to do so.

At the same time, like indigenous peoples around the globe, the
Quileute want to be meaningful participants in the treatment of their
own cultural property. This means, first and foremost, having their
sovereignty and their culture respected by outsiders. The Quileute’s
Web site tells visitors about the tribal laws that govern Quileute
territory. One of these laws specifies that burial grounds and
religious ceremonies are “sacred and not to be entered.” Had MSN
acknowledged the tribe as a sovereign government, it might not have
broken that rule. The Quileute believe that respect for Indian tribal
sovereignty could likewise bridge cultural gaps between other Indian
communities and outsiders.

Going forward, the Quileute should be engaged in the “Twilight”
phenomenon. They should be able, first, to welcome Ms. Meyer to the
reservation and introduce her to the Tribal Council and all the
Quileute people. They should be consulted on projects where the
Quileute name and culture are used to market products. And Quileute
elders should be able to share with the world the true Quileute
creation story, in which tribal members were transformed into humans
from wolves (not vampire-fighting wolves).

Undoubtedly, the Quileute, whose remote reservation leaves them with
few options for economic development, would also welcome
“Twilight”-based profit-sharing arrangements or other opportunities to
capitalize on the phenomenon. They struggle to maintain adequate
tribal housing and to support their tribal school, Elder Center and
tribal court, all of which are integral to ensuring that their culture
continues for future generations.

The ultimate choice, regarding not only the Quileute but all
indigenous peoples, is not simply whether outsiders are free to
appropriate tribal cultural property. For the sake of fairness as much
as law, indigenous peoples must play a significant role in decisions
regarding their cultural property.

Angela R. Riley directs the American Indian Studies Center at the
University of California, Los Angeles. She has informally advised the
Quileute Tribe on a voluntary basis.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.
(H. Schiffman, Moderator)

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list