Saturday, September 7, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lelooska, Master Carver, Won Acclaim For His Totem Poles


ARIEL, Cowlitz County - Master carver and storyteller Lelooska, who dedicated much of his life to the preservation of the art and lore of Northwest Indians, has died.

He died of cancer Thursday. He was 63.

Lelooska was born Don Smith in Sonora, Calif. He was called Yana the Bear at birth, but it was the name Lelooska, meaning "To Cut Against Wood With a Knife," that brought him fame.

He came to Hubbard, Ore., in 1936 where his family ran a gift shop and where he carved for the tourist trade.

Lelooska won acclaim for his totem poles, carved out of old-growth cedar. He is said to have carved 100 or more totem poles and thousands of masks, using only the D adze, the elbow adze and the hooked knives used by his ancestors.

"My warrior grandfather was a whittler," Lelooska once told an interviewer. "He taught me to carve as soon as I could hold a knife."

Lelooska's grandfather, He-Kill, a full-blooded Cherokee, also taught him the myths and legends of his people.

"Grandfather always told me, `Let the hatchet be buried. But let not the Indian ways be forgotten.' "

During Oregon's Centennial in 1959, Lelooska carved a 50-foot totem pole celebrating the state's role in Operation Deep Freeze, which established a scientific station at the geographic South Pole. The pole now towers over Washington Park Zoo in Portland.

He carved a duplicate 30-foot Friendship pole, which dominates the entrance to the international airport at Christchurch, New Zealand.

In 1961, the family moved to Ariel. Volunteers built a traditional longhouse, a log museum and later an art gallery, where Lelooska and his family, wearing the masks and robes of the Kwakiutls, danced in the flickering shadows of the firelight.

Lelooska, with his pipe-organ voice, brought to life the myths and legends of his ancestors.

The longhouse shows were among his proudest accomplishments, attracting 25,000 visitors a year. There were also workshops in American Indian culture offered by the nonprofit Lelooska Foundation, where students can earn college credits from Central Washington University and Lewis & Clark College.

Lelooska received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark for his leadership in American Indian art and culture. He also was given the school's Aubrey Watzek Award for his contributions to American Indian culture.

In 1968, Chief James Sewid, hereditary chief of the Kwakiutl Nation on Vancouver Island, held a potlatch to adopt Lelooska into the Sewid family.

Private services were planned at the Coast House at the family compound here.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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