"Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer chose Forks after Googling for the rainiest place in America and was pleased to find the Quileute nearby.
Locals marvel at how much she got right, but the economically depressed reservation is ambivalent about "Twilight" and how its 350 residents should capitalize on it. Compared to Forks, where visitors can pose with Bella's truck and participate in a "Twilight" look-alike contest, the reservation is cloaked in centuries-old anonymity.
"There are mixed feelings," says tribal council member Anna Rose Counsell. Over the last three months, the tribe has struggled over what to do. "This is a phenomenon that is happening whether we like it or not."
Tribal leaders hired a p.r. pro, Jackie Jacobs, in February after being inundated with "Twilight" inquiries. The tribe opened its Wednesday night drum circle to all visitors, which recently included two families of "Twilight" fans.
At the tribe-owned Oceanside Resort, director Renee Rux says business is up 30 percent, thanks to "Twilight." "It's been huge for us," Rux says. The resort recently partnered with a charter boat company to offer "Twilight" tour packages for $250.
At the moment, the shop stocks few "Twilight" souvenirs, including hand-knit hats emblazoned with "Bella," "Jacob" and "Edward." Another holds $8 bottles of sand, labeled "Jacob's Treasure."
Rux, a non-native, retrained the staff to reach out to visitors. "That's the paradigm shift," she says. "People [now] want that experience of being with the Quileute."
A hospitality industry veteran, Rux promised to add $1 million to the resort's $2 million in revenue when she was hired last September. It's just not clear how much the Quileute people want to share their culture for profit.
Hospitality is an ingrained part of their culture, but elders are worried about building a tourist economy. They fret about how their creation story is portrayed in the book. The tribe says they were changed from wolves to humans by a traveler. Meyer took literary liberty, enabling them to change back at will in an eternal battle against vampires.
"This is our opportunity to educate people on Quileute history," Counsell says.
At the Wednesday drum circle, artist and grandmother Ann Penn-Charles works up a sweat in the kitchen while a group of men sing traditional songs. More than 75 people have come on this night for the tribe's free dinner and music.
Quileute artists take pride in harvesting their own materials, whether it's raw animal sinew for a drum or cedar bark for baskets. Penn-Charles says she's felt judged by some tribal members because she knits the names of "Twilight" characters into traditional cowichin hats. They sell for $50 at the resort store, or $25 directly from her.
"They're resentful. They think we're selling out," Penn-Charles says. "It's not. It makes your car payment, or those braces your kids need."
The tribe has hired a business developer, Justin Finkbonner, who also spearheads a crusade to market Quileute and other native artists.
"We have so many talented artists here, so many untapped," Counsell says. "They don't know how to market."
In Forks, Chinook Pharmacy owner Chuck Carlson, agrees. He's seen a 20 percent jump in business thanks to "Twilight" merchandise, but the store only carries one Quileute craft -- tiny hand-woven cedar baskets that sit behind a glass case and sell for $49.
"They need to take more advantage of what's going on," Carlson says. "I don't think they understand how to do that."
In particular, he feels the tribe should profit from the tour buses that rumble through the reservation. "I would be saying, 'Hey, you're coming down here, you're making a lot of money off us. You need to share some of that profit.' "
The tribe is now talking about working with tour operator Dazzled by Twilight. Its evolution as a business likely will only grow as the rest of the books are made into movies. In later books, the Quileutes' role becomes nearly as prominent as the Cullens'.
Fans of La Push hope visitors who come for "Twilight" will learn to appreciate the area's natural allure. That could help connect the Quileutes to more sustainable tourism, such as fishing trips with a Native American guide, kayak rentals and eateries focused on fresh seafood that will attract culinary tourists.
Tribal publicist Jacobs practically scoffs at questions about what the Quileutes will do once "Twilight" fades.
"The Quileute have traced their ancestry to the Ice Age," she says. "One day, 'Twilight' will go away and they will continue being the hospitable, welcoming people they've always been, practicing the culture they have been practicing for tens of thousands of years.
Some time back, I saw something that said cast members would be at Quileute Days July 17-19th, but there is nothing about it on the tribe's website and no mention of it in the news story above.
Update, October 23, 2009
Want to see more that I've written about Twilight? Try...
"Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT" (May 19, 2008)
"Meyer's TWILIGHT, Second Post" (May 25, 2008)
Terrific essays about Meyer's character "Jacob" (June 30, 2008)
"Has Stephenie Meyer read this?" (Oct 23, 2009)