PENINSULA WOMAN: She promotes Neah Bay through photographs, work for Makah tribe

This is a rare place with its own identity. As small towns across the country become ever more homogenized, Neah Bay stands apart, remote and rich in a living traditional culture.

Meredith Parker, a daughter of the Makah tribe who has spent her life building up this community’s resources, recently introduced Neah Bay to the world via a revamping of its Internet presence: plus a page. And to complement those online ventures, she’s put together an old-fashioned, hard-copy package: 12 images of her favorite moments.

The Neah Bay Washington 2011 calendar almost sings from the shelves where it is displayed. It’s a year’s worth of sights and activities, chosen from some 20,000 photos Parker has taken over decades.

Her camera, it’s clear, loves the Pacific Ocean, Neah Bay’s beaches, birds, surfers and children as much as Parker does.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” says the 56-year-old mother of two. She wanted her bring up her sons Jonathan Heilman, now 26, and C.J. Heilman, 24, here where they would know their Makah heritage.

Now that they’re grown and working — the elder as a commercial fisherman year-round out of Neah Bay, the younger in Edmonds at a furniture company — Parker continues to promote the health and wealth of her community.

During the 1970s, Parker got two kinds of education: one working at the Ozette village archeological site as laboratory manager, and the other in the form of a liberal arts degree from the Evergreen State College, where “they taught me I could learn anywhere.”

After graduation, she set out across the United States, visiting people she had gotten to know at the Ozette dig, shooting photographs all the way.

That was the beginning of Parker’s self-directed photographic training. She’s been capturing Neah Bay’s singular beauty since. She created the 2011 calendar as a gift to her community, and a portion of proceeds benefits two of her favorite organizations: the Makah Cultural and Research Center, which opened its museum doors in 1979, and the Neah Bay Chamber of Commerce, now into its fifth year.

Through the fall of 2010, Parker, president of the chamber, worked with a team of designers — armed with a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise grant — to reinvigorate with trip itineraries, a services directory and “What to Do” and “Festivals and Events” pages.

She also helped create a sign at the eastern entry to the town, on which Neah Bay’s shops, restaurants and lodging are listed.

The sign, Parker says, is painted in the light brown shade of cedar bark, and has across its top a long, black symbol of the Makah tribe.

With this shape, the sign shows how “we’re all in the same canoe,” she notes.

Parker is also president of the Makah Cultural and Research Center board and vice president of the Potlatch Fund (www.Potlatch, which promotes philanthropy in Northwest Indian country.

She serves on several other boards including that of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the Peninsula’s PEAK leadership program; she organizes annual blood drives in Neah Bay and sits on the Makah tribal elections board, where one of her goals is a voting age of 18 instead of the current 21.

Alongside her volunteer work, Parker devoted 35 years to the Makah Forestry Enterprise; she retired as CEO in 2007 after 35 years. Today, she is the owner and operator of Ozett Associates, a cultural and natural resources consulting firm. One of her clients, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has hired her to produce a video about the past 100 years of Native American forestry.

Hearing a list of her activities, and then learning that she has an extended family of more than 200, many of which come to Neah Bay for the holidays, can make a visitor dizzy. But Parker is not a woman with an energy shortage.

She found her place to recharge a long time ago.

“Walking along the beach, I can connect with my past and think about my future . . . I go to Tsoo-yas and Hobuck regularly,” she says.

“I’m a beach bum,” she adds with a smile.

“I like being amongst the birds,” as she was when she took September’s photo for her Neah Bay calendar. It’s a shot of teeming Heermann’s gulls, studded with a few big pelicans, standing on the sand.

During the winter, she replaces some of her beachgoing with gatherings: potlatches and projects with other volunteers.

For Parker, this is how to make the most of the season: “Nurture relationships; build alliances,” while working with a local organization. The chamber, the Makah museum and other groups place great value on volunteers, Parker adds.

“The community takes care of you,” so joining a local nonprofit is one way, she says, to focus your energy in a positive direction.

Greg Colfax, a Makah master carver and the co-owner of Linda’s Wood-Fired Kitchen in Neah Bay, credits Parker for her clear vision when developing programs to promote local business and culture.

“She has a mind that not only inquires, but acquires,” Colfax said.

“She loves reading the small details of things, and she can assemble new thoughts and new ideas from that type of study.”

Janine Bowechop, director of the Makah Cultural and Research Center, added that Parker is known for questioning the set way of doing things.

As president of the center’s board of trustees, “she always asks the hard questions, and expects detailed information in a way that makes the organization stronger,” Bowechop said. “She’ll challenge you in a way that helps you improve what you do, though not in an intimidating way.”

Parker “keeps me on my toes. I like that there is that careful attention . . . she really sets high standards for herself and for the tribe.” Parker, added Bowechop, is a member who shows her commitment to be both a witness and a representative for the Makah people.

And she doesn’t miss an opportunity to invite people across the Peninsula to Neah Bay’s 2011 festivals.

In April, the Makah tribe will host its third annual Eagle Festival, with an art fair, guest presenters and other events revolving around the iconic bird. And then, Parker says, “the eagles show up,” providing photogenic moments as they pair off and prepare to nest.

As reflected on the pages of her calendar, the venerable Makah Days festival takes place in August, and the relatively new Hobuck Hoedown surfing celebration comes in October. That event was a smashing success last year, with surf kayakers, stand-up paddlers and long-board surfers converging on the waves here.

“In Neah Bay, things are hopping,” Parker says. “You can’t be bored. People are active and hanging together.”

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