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Indian Tribe Enlists 'Twilight' Fans' Aid in Move to Higher Ground

La Push, Washington is home to the Quileute Tribe, which lives right on the water's edge.

Several Pacific Northwest Indian tribes want to move their coastal villages to higher ground. This comes after the March earthquake off the coast of Japan underscored the dangers of living in a tsunami zone. But it takes an act of Congress to expand a reservation.

So the tiny Quileute Nation is hoping to encourage lawmakers to act, in part by relying on its newfound popularity as a pilgrimage destination for fans of the "Twilight" series of books and movies - which create a world in which the Quileute lands are teeming with werewolves.

The Quileute Indian Reservation is all of two-and-a-half square kilometers. It’s surrounded on three sides by the lush rainforest of Olympic National Park and on the fourth, by the Pacific Ocean.

Quileute elder DeAnna Hobson loves living by the water. "The atmosphere I enjoy living by the ocean is sleeping with my window open to hear the sounds of the ocean."

DeAnna Hobson, who lives near the water, has recurring dreams about tsunamis.
DeAnna Hobson, who lives near the water, has recurring dreams about tsunamis.

But the roar of the surf is more ominous now. Like so many people around the world, Hobson watched those unforgettable images of destruction from the Japanese tsunami in March. She describes a recurring dream she's had since the quake.

"We’re up at the cemetery road and I look down and I see all this water going by. We’re trying to retrieve or throw a rope out into the water. I take my dreams seriously. Dreaming something like that, to me it is giving me a signal that something drastic is going to happen."

Her dream is not far off from what geologists say could happen here. That's why Quileute leaders want to give the roughly 300 people in the lower village the option to move uphill.

"The number one priority is moving our children - the schoolchildren - up to higher ground," says tribal chairwoman Bonita Cleveland. "Our school is right on the ocean."

Quileute tribal chairwoman Bonita Cleveland is lobbying to move her people to higher ground.
Quileute tribal chairwoman Bonita Cleveland is lobbying to move her people to higher ground.

And so are the tribal senior center, several churches and tribal headquarters. But there’s a big problem. Cleveland points out the tribal village is already built out right up to the edge of the tiny reservation. On the other side of the line is majestic Olympic National Park.

"Back in the day, our ancestors moved along this land freely. They moved up and down this coast. Today, we can’t do that."

Only Congress can adjust the boundaries of a national park. It’s been done before. In December, lawmakers gave the nearby Hoh Indian Tribe a sliver of Olympic park land. That tribe now plans to move out of the tsunami zone.

But the Quileutes are asking for much more land, more than 300 hectares of the national park - some of it designated wilderness. The tribe wants to enlist an unlikely ally in its cause: the huge fan base of the "Twilight" vampire saga.

Local businesses on the Olympic Peninsula embrace the ‘Twilight’ tribe.
Local businesses on the Olympic Peninsula embrace the ‘Twilight’ tribe.

Stephenie Meyer’s novels have sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than three dozen languages. In the saga, the Quileute reservation is home to fleet-footed, dangerous yet caring werewolves. A Twitter feed and YouTube channel managed by the tribe tries to tell the real story, explaining that the reality of the Quileute people is far different from what is portrayed in the "Twilight" books and movies.

This part of the Washington coast is popular with "Twilight" tourists, who come to visit the places mentioned in the series. Their welfare actually came up at a U.S. Senate hearing called to review the proposed land transfer. There, Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell described the wider public benefits.

"Helping the Quileute Tribe move their facilities 800 feet [250 meters] up and out of the tsunami zone is the primary purpose of this legislation," said Cantwell. "However, it will ensure visitors access to Second Beach, Rialto Beach and preserve thousands of acres of Olympic National Park as wilderness."

There’s no organized opposition, so the tribe’s main challenge now is to keep the attention of the busy Congress long enough to get its bill passed.Then the next hurdle will be to find the money to relocate to higher ground on the Olympic Peninsula.