Roger Fernandes, master storyteller, Lower Elwha S’Klallam.
Roger Fernandes, or Kawasa, is a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indians from the Port Angeles, Washington area. He describes himself as an urban Indian as his mother, Violet Charles, moved to the city of Seattle where he was born in 1951. English surnames are common in the Puget Sound region and his family name is Charles. His great-grandmother was Annie Ned from Sequim, who married into the Makah tribe and moved to Neah Bay, the h
ome of the Makah people on the northern Olympia Peninsula. He is from a family of four brothers who are all active doing various cultural things like singing, basket making, artwork and storytelling.
Today the Lower S’Klallam are at the north end of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington just north of the Olympic Mountains foothills and the shores of the Straits of San Juan De Fuca. The reservation is about ten miles outside of Port Angeles, Washington.
Roger has been storytelling for about seven or eight years. The stories he started with were simple legends. Through his own interest and doors being opened by understanding those stories he moved into telling myths, creation stories, flood stories, and hero stories. In sharing these types of stories Native people can teach non-Natives about the aspects of their culture that go beyond food, shelter, and clothing. These stories actually define the culture of the tellers.
A story he shares of his tribe is how the S’Klallam people got their name. Stories incorporate songs and dances as an integral part when being told and are included in several stories that he tells. In the course of learning Native American stories, Roger has integrated stories he has learned from other cultures around the world like Mexico, Africa and Asia. All stories speak the same human language and teach same lessons.
Also a tribal historian, Roger gives a comprehensive multimedia presentation on the art of the Coast Salish people, including slides showing that the art of the Salish people. Their art is quite a bit different than that of the stereotypical northwest coastal Indian art like totem poles, masks and button blankets. He’s accumulated artifacts and artwork to show how the native people of this area created their designs, art, basketry and carving. A couple of other topics Roger uses is the environment and health and healing. He believes art, music and stories reflect the culture and the culture reflects the environment. Spiritual health that people need is told in stories that convey how a human being is to live in balance with family, community, and nature. Stories lead to a spiritual and emotional understanding on how to live in the world.
Roger is involved in art organizations and initiatives by and for Native American artists. He’s the Executive Director of South Wind Native Arts and Education Foundation a small grass roots non-profit and he’s on the arts advisory committee for the Potlatch Fund. He has recorded a CD ‘Teachings of the First People’ that shares several of the stories he tells in his performances. He won a folk life award from the Washington Arts Commission for his work in teaching about Coast Salish art. He also has a degree in Native American Studies from the Evergreen State College.
Roger does a lot of work in schools and tailors his presentations to young people. Children understand stories at one level and so he gives them access to stories that are easy to interpret. Native people call their stories “the teachings” as they are the fundamental way of teaching children. He likes them to be involved in the interpretive process. Elders have another level of understanding and bring a lot of wisdom and knowledge to any discussion so a strength that should be built on is the cross generational experience in storytelling. His audiences include community groups such as schools, libraries, parks departments, senior centers and open forum presentations that are geared towards a general audience.
821 209 th Ave NE
Sammamish, WA 98074
PHOTO BY Alex Garla
I was born and raised in the Seattle area. My mother moved to the city when she was a young woman and I was born in 1951 in Seattle. So I guess I’m what you would call an urban Indian, in some regards that makes life difficult in figuring out your native identity. In other regards it cam be seen as an asset. As when you do begin to look for your tribal identity it becomes a very focused search. That focused search led me to art and language and ceremony and story. So the past few years I’ve been telling Native American stories from this region for my own tribe as well as the tribes of the Puget Sound area.