WEEKEND REWIND: Emmett Oliver, Quinault Nation’s eldest member and Paddle to Seattle founder, dies at age 102

Emmett Oliver at a 2013 Canoe Journey event. ()

Emmett Oliver at a 2013 Canoe Journey event. ()

TAHOLAH — The founder of the 1989 Paddle to Seattle and oldest member of the Quinault Nation has died at the age of 102.

Emmett Sampson Oliver died in Edmonds at 4:19 p.m. Monday surrounded by members of his family, Indian Country said.

“Emmett will be dearly missed. He achieved so much in his life and leaves a legacy that will truly last forever,” said Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp.

Oliver was a member of the committee planning the state’s centennial celebration when he organized the Paddle to Seattle.

That prompted the annual Canoe Journeys, in which tribes, mostly from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, travel to a weeklong potlatch.

“The physical and spiritual discipline required to participate in the Canoe Journey, and the cultural sharing and traditional teachings that take place during the event, have changed countless lives,” the tribe said.

“The fact is that Emmett saved hundreds if not thousands of lives,” Sharp said.

“It is hard to underestimate the great positive impact that the resurgence of the canoe culture has had on American Indians in this country,” Sharp said.

“It has helped so many of our children and adults turn away from drugs and alcohol, and displaced depression and despair with hope and culture-based principles,” she added.

“People are learning their culture again. They have pride again, and they’re staying in school.

“Emmett Oliver was a true hero among our people,” she said.

Oliver was born Dec. 2, 1913, in South Bend. He was the son of a Chinook mother and a Cowlitz father, the tribe said.

He attended public school in South Bend, boarding school on the Tulalip Reservation and the Sherman Institute in California, where he was a standout academically and athletically, the tribe said.

He studied at Bacone College, a two-year Native college in Oklahoma, then transferred on a scholarship to the University of Redlands.

He received a degree in biology and education.

After college, he served in World War II and the Korean War.

He also served in the Coast Guard.

He directed the Indian Student Center at the University of California Los Angeles and the Indian Student Program at the University of Washington, and also served as supervisor of Native American education for the state of Washington.

Oliver worked to change tribal educational policy at the state and national levels, general educational practices in K-12 schools and Native community involvement in the education of their children.

While teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area, he was chosen as chairman of the Bay Area Native American Committee, which was involved in the occupation of Alcatraz, demanding that the site — closed and declared surplus federal property — be returned to Native Americans.

He served on the State Heritage Council at that time, as well as on the Maritime Committee of the Centennial Commission.

Oliver and his late wife, Georgia, had three children. His son Arne has died. He is survived by the artist Marvin Oliver of Seattle and daughter Marylin Bard of Kingston, Indian Country said.

The family now numbers nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, the tribe said.

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