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Northwest tribe revels in ‘Twilight’ spotlight

The leader of the Quileute Nation in northwest Washington first began hearing her tribe had a role in the popular “Twilight Saga” from fans clamoring to know more about the place where a vampire tale of teenage love unfolds.

Some fans sent e-mails. The most dedicated among them made trips to the remote reservation that is home to the series’ heartthrob werewolf Jacob Black.

“The interest in our tribe was a surprise, a good surprise,” tribal Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer said. “I thought to myself, people are going to actually get to know the Quileute and we are going to be recognized as a people. The real Quileute.”

That was a couple of years ago. With “Eclipse,” the series’ third movie in theaters now, the 750-member Quileute Nation is reveling in the “Twilight” spotlight, attempting to capitalize on the blockbuster’s massive financial pull and welcoming new interest in the tribe’s culture.

At their Oceanside Resort, the tribe is opening a cabin decorated in a wolf theme, a shout out to Jacob and the Quileute’s own origin story, which begins with a transformation from wolves to people.

At a Quileute store in the reservation town of La Push, handmade beanie hats with “Jacob” stitched on them sell for nearly $35. There’s also a “Jacob’s Java” espresso stand.

“This is historical. This is going to be imprinted on people’s lives for generations to come,” Counsell-Geyer said.

Central to the “Twilight Saga” is a love triangle among human teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

The Quileute’s homeland — the place where they have lived and hunted for centuries — serves as the backdrop to author Stephenie Meyer’s saga, with the stunning imagery of rocks and cliffs rising along the Pacific Ocean.

Four hours west of Seattle, the Quileute reservation is on the far and remote side of the rain-soaked Olympic Peninsula. The reservation’s boundaries are confined within a square mile.

In the movies and books, the tribe’s folklore is meshed into the role of the Wolf Pack, a group of young Quileute men who shapeshift into wolves. Jacob and other Wolf Pack members guard the reservation from vampires.

For Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne and Arapaho filmmaker, the key aspect of the Twilight series is that it shows Native Americans in a contemporary light.

Eyre directed the well-received 1998 film “Smoke Signals,” which focused on a coming of age story of two teenagers living on the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho.

Like “Smoke Signals,” the “Twilight Saga” marks a departure from Hollywood’s long tradition of portraying Native Americans as a people from the past.

In the saga’s second chapter, “New Moon,” Jacob talks about going to school on the reservation and rides motorcycles.

In “Eclipse,” Jacob’s friends emerge from a small house in their opening scene shirtless and wearing shorts — a now-signature look for the Wolf Pack. They laugh and tease Jacob about his crush on Bella.

“I think as long as the werewolves aren’t wearing loincloths, it is a good step forward,” Eyre said from Los Angeles, where he is finishing an episode of the NBC show “Friday Night Lights.”

“It’s so important to have Native people in contemporary roles … that’s where I think we’re lacking. We want to see Native people in 2010. I think we’re tired of seeing Native people in 1860,” he said.

When the first movie was filming in Oregon, a group of tribal members visited the set and met with Lautner, who interviewed them.

“One thing they do that I noticed is they don’t need to be told to what to do. If the trash is getting full, they empty it out. They’re always helping each other. They’re always there for each other. So I just want to make sure I can bring that part of Jacob alive,” Lautner told MTV in 2008.

In that interview, Lautner said he was part Native American.

To top it off, several members of the Quileute nation attended the movie’s premiere in Los Angeles last week, said Jackie Jacobs, the tribe’s spokeswoman for all things Twilight. Some also attended the premiere of “New Moon.”

“This is going to be imprinted on people’s lives for generations to come,” Chairwoman Counsell-Geyer said.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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