Vivian Lee, the Hoh storyteller, prepares for one of her storytelling sessions. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

Vivian Lee, the Hoh storyteller, prepares for one of her storytelling sessions. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Keeping a tradition alive

Vivian Lee of the Hoh Tribe laughed when she told me her favorite story to tell kids is of Duskia, “the witch woman who wanders the woods and takes kids who don’t listen to their parents.”

She said when she tells it, she flips her long hair over her face and wears a red and black cape and a cedar hat. Shuffling up to kids she says, “This smells like a boy, I want this one.”

“It gets them every time,” she said with a huge smile.

Except when telling a spooky story to kids, Lee is a small woman sporting a huge, welcoming smile under lively eyes rimmed with glasses.

“Kids that used to come listen to me tell stories and slide on the big whalebone at my house now have kids who come listen,” Lee said.

Lee lives on the Hoh Reservation but is around for storytelling in the forested portion of her friend’s property at the corner of Fullerton Drive and U.S. Highway 101, about 23 miles south of Forks. Signs indicate she is there from noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday, but Lee said she tells stories Fridays, too.

In this section of forest, Lee has made a living room of sorts, complete with rugs and seats. Surrounding the area are blankets decorated with native-themed art hung as a floating wall. Here, she has set up a small display of stories and items to enhance her tales. There is no charge for her time, only donations are accepted.

This raconteuse said the name the creator Kwatee gave her is Sassiwastub. She doesn’t know what it means because “we don’t know the creator’s language.”

Names like that are handed down through families.

She explained, “When we pass away, we will hear our names called by him,” an event she said she is looking forward to because she is grateful for her gift of life.

Lee tells the narrative of how the people of the Hoh Tribe came to be called the “Upside Down People.”

That’s how the creator found the people on the edge of the ocean, standing bent over at the waist with their heads down toward the shallow water, using their skirts to catch only a few smelt at a time.

The creator gave them a dip net for smelt and all the people of the Hoh were so happy they said, “Wha tlitcht ahso sta,” which means, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” in Quileute.

Obviously to hear Lee tell the story is something that is impossible to translate in writing. Her body movements, expressions and noises take listeners along on the journeys of her accounts.

She also tells the story of Thunderbird and Whale to her visitors. This is the story of the Biblical worldwide flood as seen from the Hoh perspective.

Another narrative Lee likes to give a Hoh perspective on is the 1808 shipwreck of the Russian Sv. Nikolai. Her viewpoint details a helpful relationship between the stranded non-natives and local tribespeople.

A personal story of Lee’s begins like this, “I chewed President Bill Clinton out.”

It was 1994 and she had joined other tribal leaders from around the United States as chairwoman of the Hoh Tribe when tribal leaders were invited to the White House. Lee took offense because although the leaders were invited, they were not allowed to go inside the White House.

“We had to stay outside in a circus tent with just stacks of preschool chairs,” her voice is laced with insulted pride as she explains.

Clinton shook hands with the leaders and they were given replicas of a coin representing the treaties between the federal government and tribes.

However, Clinton did not give the coins out when shaking hands, but rather they were set on a table by the place where tribal leaders caught buses to leave the White House.

Lee said, “They don’t mean anything sitting on a table.”

The basis of chewing out Clinton in a letter was the disrespectful treatment she felt on behalf of all the assembled leaders and the lazy gifting of the replica coins.

Lee explained of the coin, “He forgot the meaning of it.”

Lee also has several of her own, personal stories of Bigfoot.

With the name of Vivian Lee, she does say she gets mail for the actress, Vivien Leigh, who actually died in 1967.

This Hoh Lee spent her early years in Queets, going to school in Forks. Her father, Warren Lee, and grandfather Taft Williams were both canoe carvers for the Quinault Tribe.

Lee said two examples of their work are on display at the Hurricane Ridge visitors center and in Astoria, Ore. Together these men also led the building of the Shaker church in Queets.

These days, she spins her yarns just a few hundred feet from the building where her mother went to school. Her grandmother’s house still stands by the Pacific Ocean at the lower village of the Hoh.

As for future Hoh raconteurs, Lee said, “I just keep telling the stories, hoping they will remember.”


Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]

West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be Aug. 6.

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