Sharing His Breath

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 2015 Artists in Business Leadership Fellow

Delbert Miller (Skokomish) is a traditional carver, drummer, and storyteller. He received a First Peoples Fund (FPF) Community Spirit Award in 2014, and the Cultural Capital (CC) fellowship in 2016. Delbert and his wife, Tina, live on traditional Skokomish land.

Image by Ronnie Farley.

Image by Ronnie Farley.

Skokomish oral tradition tells how the Creator made the world for the coming of humans. He blew the breath of life into the land, created the people and blew the breath of life into them to live in that place. When they are moved from that place, they lose the breath of life.

Through Delbert Miller’s CC fellowship, he’s instilling his breath in his tribe and community.

Delbert shared his vision with his community this past year to build a doctor house like ones that haven’t existed among their people since the 1860s. His CC fellowship inspired interest, support and engagement from elders and youth alike. People stepped forward and offered their gifts to help.

Delbert is involving the youth to carve elements for the doctor house, to be the ones who are asked, “Who made this?” The youth can identify their part in their own cultural legacy. Four generations are involved in the project. It’s a work that feeds Delbert’s soul and inspires him to do more.

As a traditional carver, drummer, and storyteller, he often creates ceremonial items not to be sold. “Bi?ulax ch3d” means to put away his treasures and his property in preparation to give. He is making these gifts and treasures to give away. Delbert finds support through grant programs like FPF to grow his work, to grow deep roots in his community. To teach young people how to carry these things into the future. They can look back in life and say, “I was there. I helped.”

The CC fellowship has made an impact on Delbert’s community that will last for generations to come. Once the Doctor House is completed, it will provide a place for teaching, for healing and for cultural exchanges, reaching within and beyond his tribe. They can take pride in achieving this as a community. They are sharing their breath.