Chief Tsungani

Hello from the History Department.

Read about Chief Tsungani, some of whose lovely artwork hangs at the Kalama Harbor Lodge, such as the sun mask that greets guests at the entrance and is shown with the artist below.

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Born Fearon Smith Jr., and nicknamed “Smitty,” Chief Tsungani is the younger brother of the late Don Smith (who gained fame as Chief Lelooska) and Patty Fawn. The Smith family members – who were of Cherokee and mixed heritage, and were adopted by Chief James Aul Sewinde of the Kwakiutl – became well known in Northwest for their traditional native dances, songs and stories, which they performed, often with other Native groups, at special events, county and regional fairs and rodeos, including one of the largest and best-known: the Pendleton Round-Up, in Eastern Oregon.

For years, the Smith family home in Hubbard, OR, was a popular stopover for a steady flow of friends, relatives, rodeo performers and native artists including such greats as Klondike Kate, a vaudeville singer and dancer who made her name and fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush (and whose story is tied to the history of McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend); Slim Pickens, a rodeo star turned cowboy actor; and the many descendants of John Kalama.

An Oregonian article from 1959 provides this colorful description:

Surely this is the oddest of all industries in Oregon. Here, on the old Pacific Highway at the outskirts of Hubbard you can buy a totem pole to frighten the neighbors, a shrunken head in the image of your mother-in-law, a model of Klondike Kate that would fool Kate herself, or a diorama of an Indian battle that would freeze your blood, and delight a museum.

In 1959, the Smith family was invited to participate in Oregon’s Centennial Exposition with Lelooska, a master totem carver, erecting a cedar totem pole for the occasion. The entire family pitched in to complete the massive totem in 14 days, which was dedicated at an Indian potlatch and ceremonial dance. Tsungani had fond memories hosting “some of the best bronc riders and bull riders in the country,” adding, “I had a lot of fun there. …We had a long shed . . . and one side of it opened so tourists, ‘touristas’ could come and watch the carving.”

Upon the close of the Oregon Centennial Expo, a wealthy Portlander named William Weinberg convinced the family to relocate from their Hubbard home to a new, specially built residence/store/shop in downtown Kalama, WA. The family stayed for three years before tiring of feeling like a roadside attraction – “You know, ‘Quick, Martha, take a picture of an Indian,’” according to Tsungani.

During this unsettling period for the Smiths, high school-aged Tsungani was, in his own words, a rebellious youth, skipping school, and “I would crash the motorcycles … And Lelooska would hand me a chisel and say, ‘Try this.’” His older brother once commented, Tsungani “will be showing me up some of these days.””

Tsungani’s unhappiness and restlessness in Kalama was a primary reason the Smiths moved to the Valley of the Mists in Ariel, WA, up above Woodland, where they created a more peaceful and creative environment for their family. And there they soon established a native art, performance and educational center that became known as the Lelooska Foundation. Here, Tsungani became skilled in all mediums of Northwest Coast Indian art, and now is probably best known for his ceremonial masks, rattles, bentwood boxes and chests, and as “an expert at handling the large, articulated masks – a skill much respected by the Old People.”

After his brother Lelooska’s passing in 1996, Tsungani became Clan Chief. Tsungani’s name translates to “He Who Excels.” Tsungani, who married Julia Stoll, had two daughters: Mariah Stoll-Smith Reese and Lottie Stoll-Smith. Julia, who passed away in 2012, was a talented contemporary visual artist.

The Lelooska Foundation, led by Tsungani and his daughter Mariah, remains active and open to visitors today in Ariel, welcoming a constant flow of visitors – and most important, lots of school children – from the Northwest and all around the globe.

McMenamins is honored to display some of Tsungani’s artwork at the Kalama Harbor Lodge.

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