Teachings of the First People

Turtle Island Storyteller Roger FernandeMy name is Roger Fernandes. My native name is Kawasa. I’m a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indians from the Port Angeles area of the state of Washington.

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 can 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.

My family is from again the Lower Elwha and Elwha people are the northernmost of the S’Klallam bands. My mother again is Violet Charles and Charles’s name is very big among the Klallam people. There are a lot of English surnames among our tribes of this area including Charles, Johnson, Samson, and James, English surnames that were given to the various families as they were identified and moved onto the reservations. My great-grandmother’s name was Annie Ned. She married into the Makah tribe and moved to Neah Bay, the home of the Makah people, and as such, I have many Makah relatives as well. So the northern Olympia Peninsula is where the Klallam people and the Makah people are. I have a family of four brothers and all of us are active in the culture doing various things like singing, basket making, artwork, and stories.


Roger Fernandes

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 home of the Makah people on the northern Olympia Peninsula. He is from a family of four brothers who are all active in doing various cultural things like singing, basket making, artwork, and storytelling.

Today the Lower S’Klallam is 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 the 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 of 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 grassroots 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 folklife 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.

Roger Fernandes
821 209th Ave NE
Sammamish, WA 98074