Twilight, Quileute Indians & Smithsonian: Wolves? Yes.

Quileute tribe ceremonial wolf headdress, made of wood, paint, fabric and cedar. The visually striking artifact is part of the new Smithsonian exhibition on the small tribe in the Pacific Northwest. Photo and artifact from the Washington State Historical Society, released for use with news stories about the exhibit.Smithsonian show
shines Twlight’s
glow on Quileute


JANE WELLS is the author of Glitter in the Sun, a new Bible-study series for church groups that explores timeless spiritual themes in the Twilight series using biblical passages and examples from everyday life.

Finally, the Twilight tidal wave is benefiting the tiny Northwest Pacific Coast Indian tribe known as the Quileute (pronounced “quill-yoot”). The best-selling series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, followed by the hugely popular movie series, initially caused problems for the small band with a population of less than 400 living under the tribal council—and no more than 2,000 nationwide. The largely female fans of Twilight naturally wanted to visit this remote spot in Washington state, where the novels and the films show Indians becoming—werewolves. At first, car loads of fans, friends and families were showing up and nearly overwhelming the small band.

Now, tribal leaders are excited about a major exhibition on their culture that opened this weekend at the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum on the Mall in Washington D.C. Two fluent speakers of the Quileute language appeared at the show’s opening to tell traditional Quileute tales. This special, temporary Quileute gallery inside the museum demonstrates clearly:
Are wolves important to Quileute culture? Yes!
Do these humans turn into wolves? No!
Now through May 9, the tribe and the Smithosnian are working to set the record straight on exactly what ancient tribal legends teach. Not surprisingly, vampires have nothing to do with it.

Meyer’s series of young adult books chronicle the love triangle between the teen girl, Bella, and her supernatural paramours, the vampire Edward and the werewolf Jacob. Acres of pixels and gallons of ink have been spent on the nature of Bella’s personality and just what a vampire is (as Edward seems to break all the formerly hard and fast rules), but recently interest has turned toward Jacob. In Meyer’s books, Jacob is a member of the Quileute on the Washington coast. In the Twilight world, Jacob is able to shift between his human shape and that of a giant wolf in order to protect his tribe from the threat of vampires.

Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves” is an exhibition that brings together rare works of Quileute art as a counterpoint to the supernatural storyline depicted in the popular Twilight series. If you are traveling to Washington D.C. in the next few months, look for the exhibition in the museum’s second-level Sealaska Gallery.

The Washington Post reported on the new display, explaining legends about the tribe’s origin when the deity Kwati the Transformer transformed a pair of wolves into human shape. As a result, wolf imagery is hugely important in the Quileute culture. However, the tribe and the museum’s comprehensive displays teach that shape shifting back and forth between forms is a fictional invention.

One thing Meyer did record accurately was the size and location of the Quileute reservation, nestled on the Pacific shore. Many of the tribe’s most important buildings, including a school, the tribal administrative offices and many homes are within tsunami range. Right now the tribe is stuck with this situation, mired in a 50-year-old border dispute with Olympic National Park, without higher land or the money to purchase it. One of the actresses from the Twilight saga movies is helping draw attention to this plight.

The Native American media outlet, Indian Country Today Media Network reports on the positive effect of involvement of movie celebrities in Quileute tribal concerns. Julia Jones, the actress who portrayed Quileute werewolf Leah Clearwater, herself a Chickasaw/Choctaw member, has recorded a public service announcement to help raise money so the Quileute tribe can expand their reservation and move to higher ground.

Ironically, the Smithsonian exhibit also displays a map of the Quileute’s formerly vast tribal lands, which stretched from the shore up into the Olympic Mountains.

The Smithsonian exhibit isn’t just a collection of Indian artifacts. Curators also want to show visitors the positive impact a popular series like Twilight can have. The new Quileute gallery includes “a 12-minute looped video that illuminates the history and oral and cultural traditions through interviews with tribal members and teens as they describe the phenomenon and effect of the Twilight films in their own words,” the Smithsonian’s curators write about the new show. “Replicas of items used in the Twilight films include a paddle necklace worn by the character Emily portrayed by actor Tinsel Korey, a traditional Quileute hand drum that hangs in Emily’s house, a shell necklace of Olivella shells that was on the wall of her house and the dream catcher that Jacob gives to Bella as a gift.”

Care to read more from Jane Wells? Learn about her Twilight Bible study book and read an interview with Wells about Twilight’s popular themes.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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