Forum Index > Pacific NW History > A Memoir of Quileute Indian Life: Twilight on the Thunderbird
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Anne Elk
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 4:42 am 
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Twilight on the Thunderbird may be the most unique document of Washington coast native culture to come to print in recent decades - a memoir written by someone who lived it: one of the last Quileute who as a youth had contact with Elders who embodied their cultural heritage as it was before it was forcibly broken by treaties and reservations, and its remnants further degraded by assimilation in the early 20th century.  Author Howard Hansen passed away last summer;  he was in his 90's.


I first met Howard when I worked in the administrative offices at Foss Shipyard and he  was one of their shipwrights.  I realized Howard was someone unique who I'd want to know better when a co-worker told me the story of how a Quileute Elder, recognizing Howard's creative sensitivities and intelligence, selected him while still a child for special training as a bearer of their oral traditions and spirituality.  Despite having lived his adult life away from LaPush except for visits, Howard never ceased to embody traditional Quileute ways; if you hung around long enough you'd inevitably hear him opine on the clash of values he was always navigating:

"Hmmph!  There are males, and then there are men. There's a difference, you know..."

There was no question that his childhood and teenage apprenticeship to the Quileute Elders was the strong anchor of identity that steadied him through the many changes in his life's path. The chapters in this memoir read like a collection of impressionist paintings; conveying both an emotional and sensual experience of what it was to be and think Quileute in the old days.  It was Howard's great gift to both embody and articulate it.


From his obituary:

Howard Hansen, born and reared at La Push, WA until age 14, passed into the Spirit World July 16th, 2018 attended by his wife Joanne and a care giver. Many friends and relatives with Ceremonies and Songs reflecting his beginning amongst the Quileute people, helped him along on his way.

From infancy Howard was reared by the Quileute people and trained by elders to carry the oral tradition of their history and legends. As a youth Howard was brought to Seattle from La Push by John Hansen, a Danish boat builder in Ballard. John taught him wooden boat building: a trade he followed up and down the west coast until his retirement from Foss Shipyard. Howard was also involved in running boats and fishing along the Pacific Coast, and  traveled the world as a Merchant Seaman during WWII.  He was on the board of the Shipwrights Local 1184 for several years.

An artist from his beginnings, Howard got a scholarship to Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Later he received a degree in Art Education from the UW where he met his 2nd wife, Joanne. He taught one splendid year at James Monroe Junior High School. After retiring from Foss, Howard began teaching art at Senior Centers. He joined the Seniors Making Art Program and taught many classes for them until the foundation closed. He continued teaching drawing at Ballard Senior Center, at Artist and Craftsman Supply and then a private class on Lake Union until a few weeks before his passing.

For about 15 years Howard served as a member of the Seattle Indian Health Board and used his storytelling there to help bring balance to the discussions.  He always maintained in his heart and being the teachings of his Quileute Elders and the wisdom of John Hansen.

from a remembrance by colleague James Thomas, PhD:

Howard was one of the most intensely present people Iíve ever met: he looked you in the eyes, looked you in the heart, mind and spirit.  We met in my Writing Your Life Stories class through Seniors Making Art - where Howard also taught, and he distinguished himself immediately. I was writing my name on the blackboard, and wondered out loud if I should put PhD at the end of my name - Howard said, "Why not Dr. J, you earned it, didnít you?"  And there he had given me a nickname that has stuck since.

Thatís Howard: instantly sizing up the situation with gravitas, playfulness, an intense presence of mind and spirit. I loved Howard right away.  He took care of the elderly people in the class, though they were all younger than him.  Made sure they were seen and heard, valued.  His energy was beautiful and infectious, and he valued everyoneís experience. Paid attention to it, was alert to life. I donít know anyone who had his zest for life, his energy.

Not long after we met, he stayed after class and spent several hours explaining and writing out the Quileute spiritual system on the blackboard. He had a remarkable mind and an ability to recall a book or event 50 years back. And he had the energy of someone half his age.

I have gone out south of La Push to camp almost every summer since I was nineteen. I feel a kinship with Howard when Iím there, knowing he grew up there, recalling his stories of Byack and the life of the village, and especially the time when he was a chutsk, and the elders came upon him when he was trying to be green like a leaf, and they knew he was shaman material.

I remember when my father unexpectedly died. I was devastated. I canít remember if I called Howard or he sensed something and called me. But when I told him my father had died, he told me in that deep, gravelly, beautifully reassuring voice that I will never forget as long as I live:
ďWell you know, Dr J.,  we Indians donít believe in death...just a changing of energy, a changing of worlds.Ē

views near LaPush from my Howard Hansen Memorial Road Trip, August 2018

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"There are yahoos out there.  Itís why we canít have nice things."  - Tom Mahood
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RichP
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 7:45 am 
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Thank you. I'll definitely read this book.

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Without obsession, life is nothing. John Waters
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Oldguy
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 9:28 am 
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I have to read this book. Thanks
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graywolf
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 9:37 am 
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Thank you for this.  I just ordered the book and am very eager to read it.  Was looking for a book to take on my upcoming trip to the southwest, and this will be my choice.

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The only easy day was yesterday...
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Anne Elk
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 2:48 pm 
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Thanks for these comments and interest.  I took it along for a re-read on my trip to the coast last summer - my first in over a decade - and it spun a cocoon of imagination that layered a whole different mood on the trip.  I met Howard over 20 years ago and saw him much less after his retirement. He was busier than when he was at the shipyard. My greatest regret is not being more persistent in my efforts to spend more time with him and his wife.  She says he left a trove of notes and tapes of material that didn't make it into the book; hopefully that will eventually be preserved and archived.

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"There are yahoos out there.  Itís why we canít have nice things."  - Tom Mahood
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Damian
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PostMon Feb 18, 2019 8:46 pm 
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Wow.  will check it out.  Thanks for taking the time to post this.
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Snuffy
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PostSat Feb 23, 2019 5:53 pm 
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Iíd love to read this book, thank you for sharing. 🙂

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You don't find yourself standing at the top of a mountain without having started out in the valley.
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Anne Elk
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PostSat Feb 23, 2019 8:41 pm 
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Thanks, Snuffy; and again to all who expressed interest.   One cool tidbit about Howard's adult life (which readers discover thru the introduction) is that he had been friends with Dune author Frank Herbert and was godfather to Herbert's son.  He and Herbert had many discussions about environmental destruction and the profound changes that Howard had seen on the peninsula in his lifetime.  Herbert had been much influenced by these talks as he was developing the Dune universe.
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graywolf
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PostSun Feb 24, 2019 7:36 am 
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Anne, I received my copy a couple of days ago and read the introduction by Brian Herbert.  Then, I started reading the preface and...I had to put the book down.

As I said earlier, I'm going to take this book to Arizona (Sedona & the Grand Canyon) with me, and I could tell that this book was going to suck me in and not let me go until I was done.  I'm currently reading "In the Temple of Wolves", and am trying to time it so that I finish that book right before our trip.  I want to be sure to give this book the time and attention that it very apparently deserves.

Thank you again for recommending this.

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The only easy day was yesterday...
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Anne Elk
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PostSun Feb 24, 2019 8:33 am 
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It is compelling, Graywolf; I'd be interested to know your thoughts about it after you've had a chance to dig in.  I mentioned to Howard's wife that I'd made a post about the book in NWH's history section, and she was very pleased that it's getting some exposure here to interested readers who might not discover it thru other channels.
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Ancient Ambler
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PostSun Feb 24, 2019 1:32 pm 
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Thank you for your eloquent introduction to Howard Hansen and Twilight on the Thunderbird.  My wife asked me recently what I'd like for my birthday, and after giving it some thought, I answered "nothing". This morning, after reading your post, I changed my mind.  Twilight on the Thunderbird will be arriving in a few days.
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graywolf
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PostSun Feb 24, 2019 3:08 pm 
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The only easy day was yesterday...
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Seventy2002
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PostSun Feb 24, 2019 8:05 pm 
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I ordered my copy today. Thank you for sharing this with us.
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