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Using Art to Tell a Story

Chi Qui & Yolanda Felix-Wilbur

Using art to tell a story has been a part of Native culture since time immemorial. Carvings, pictographs and petroglyphs, beadwork and pottery hold a profound significance as a means of expression, spirituality, and resilience.


Yolanda Felix-Wilbur, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and a Lummi resident since she was 2 years old, creates immersive art installations to tell the story of Native peoples. She has a gift for listening to stories, combining research, and using symbols, colors, and designs to create paintings, murals and story poles.


Yolanda has sketched and done beadwork since she was a young girl. But the beginning of her adventure as an artist began after her son Joseph passed away from Leukemia. He had asked for a coat of arms that told his life story. She was determined to fulfill his wish and created a beautiful piece titled Perseverance that told the story of his love for fishing, the outdoors, and his Lummi heritage.


“The emotional release, the peace, the empowerment I felt upon completion is a feeling that never escapes me. Each time I see his art, I grow and am determined to share this beautiful resolve with others.” 


Soon after, she created a piece for a relative whose child was going through cancer treatment. The art was used as a fundraising piece that raised nearly $40,000 in 3 days. The success of the cause, and encouragement from friends, led Yolanda to focus on telling stories through art. “It’s my objective to transform an individual or entities’ vision of art into physical art,” says Yolanda. She also founded the Joseph Felix Wilbur Foundation to increase awareness, recruit volunteers and bone marrow donors among indigenous people. Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is a genetic test to match patients and donors for bone marrow. The probability of finding a suitably matched donor among indigenous people is enhanced if someone with a similar ethnic background or ancestry is on the donor list. Yolanda’s goal is to encourage Native people to get tested and register for the donor program.


Her first public mural integrated carved canoes on the water with Mount Baker in the background. Yolanda likes to include connotations that are personal to the commission and the viewpoint is from the home of the client’s dad. It hangs in Ferndale Chamber of Commerce. A similar piece tells the story of the Lummi people for the 2017 Canoe Journey. It hangs over the fireplace at the Lummi Indian Business Council. 


A community member referred Yolanda to Pacific Northwest Tribal Lending (formerly Lummi CDFI) to apply for a loan to get a van. “You just walk in, pick up the application, and you’re halfway there,” says Yolanda. “They do the rest.” Her mobile art studio was born. “The relief we felt was incredible. It was a win-win situation.”


“This one (PNTL) is first and foremost among financial institutions. The ability to learn, prosper, and grow is unique, and you won’t find it anywhere else.” 


A recent painting includes a series of story poles depicting the history and culture of the indigenous people and the ceded territory the ceded territory in Seattle. It hangs in the Chief Seattle Club. 


Several works are in process. One is a series of 6’ x 14’ story poles that will be installed at the Ferndale School District. Yolanda is gathering information from the tribe and the district to communicate the story of indigenous people and land acknowledgement through art.


Yolanda’s studio and gift shop, Chi Qui (meaning “Go Forth, Go Easy”) is located at the Te’Ti’Sen Center in Ferndale. She is available for art commissions from individuals and organizations. If you would like her to tell your story through art, she can be reached at 360-296-8025 or email at


Pacific Northwest Tribal Lending is here to help Native entrepreneurs from northwest Washington tribes start or grow a business through education, coaching, credit building, and loans.

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