Pauline Hillaire awarded NEA fellowship


Artist, teacher, native-arts conservator, author and storyteller, Pauline Hillaire works to carry on the heritage of Washington’s Lummi Nation and is one of the most knowledgeable living resources of the Northwest Coast’s arts and culture. For her contribution to the perpetuation of cultural heritage, she will receive the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship, named after the NEA director of folk and traditional arts who initiated the Heritage Fellowships.

Known as Scällaor, “of the Killer Whale,” Hillaire is a member of Lummi Nation. As a young child, Hillaire was sent to stay with various Lummi elders to learn tribal arts, traditions, stories, songs and dances that reflected her family’s and her tribe’s value system. Her grandfather, Frank Hillaire, was the last chief of the Lummi and a spiritual leader. Her father, Joseph, was a renowned orator as well as a master carver of totem poles. Hillaire learned artistic traditions such as basket-making and Lummi songs from her mother Edna. Throughout her life, Hillaire has worked to preserve these traditions and share them with the next generations.

Hillaire is also well known for her decades of work in carrying on the efforts of her father and grandfather, who founded the song-and-dance group Setting Sun Dancers in order to preserve the art form and to educate both Native and non-Native communities in this tradition. The group has performed for more than a century in Native communities in the northwest United States and nationally at tribal gatherings and public institutions. Hillaire has taught classes on Lummi arts and culture at the Northwest Indian College as well as public schools, museums and cultural organizations in Washington.

Hillaire has been recorded for audio and DVD productions as a resource on the arts and culture of the Northwest Coast. In 2005, the Seattle Art Museum honored her for her work as a culture-bearer and featured her work in the exhibition “Song, Story, Speech: Oral Traditions of Puget Sound First Peoples.” She also has two books with media coming out soon: A Totem Pole History and Rights Remembered: A Salish Grandmother Speaks on American Indian History and the Future (both from University of Nebraska Press).  In A Totem Pole History, Hillaire tells the story of her father’s life and the traditional and contemporary Lummi narratives that influenced his work. She is the recipient of three apprenticeship awards from Washington State Arts Commission and in 1996 was presented with the Governor’s Heritage Award. 

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965. In 1982, Bess Lomax Hawes helped develop a program to recognize folk artists to preserve this national heritage. To date, the Heritage Fellows program has honored more than 200 culturally significant artists, from Apache basket weavers to zydeco and blues musicians. Panels consider nominations under the broad categories of music, craft, dance and storytelling, but 51 genres of expression have been recognized, from bonsai to weaving, including musical performance on 45 different instruments and dancers performing in 19 distinct artistic traditions.

The 2013 National Heritage Fellows will come to Washington, DC, for an awards presentation at the Library of Congress on Wed., Sept. 25.

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