The journey started about 6 years ago when Joe went on a road trip with his wife. During their stop in Monument Valley, Utah Joe happened to come across a vintage black and white post card of a stoic looking Native American chief in a local gift shop. At the time, there was no description on this post card, just an inspirational iconic image which Joe was drawn too. He held on to it and posted it up by his drafting table, eventually being inspired to draw it. Along with his signature detailed illustration technique, Joe added the final touch, sunglasses. When Joe first emailed me the drawing, I was blown away and this would eventually became ROOKs first graphic t-shirt, and ultimately lead the launch of our illustration and detailed graphic driven brand.

    Flash forward a few years later and the Chief illustration that Joe first sketched in his room had become one of ROOK’s most popular and celebrated designs. It took ROOK into a direction of iconic cultural figures, inspired even more illustration and graphic ideas, and became a lasting iconic image for our brand. As a reminder of where we started, we hung the original drawing in our office so it was the first thing you see right when you walk in.
      A few months ago we got an email from someone inquiring about the “Chief Rocka” graphic asking to speak with the people who created it. It turns out that this person, Roberta, is a descendent of the chief, who’s real name is Chief Eagle. Roberta’s niece, Charis, saw the shirt in the Magazine CCS and brought it to the attention of her family. We were honored that she and her family had contacted us. Chief Eagle’s family was curious about our brand and more than anything just wanted to understand who was creating it and see how they could educate our audience about where the original image came from. From this, Joe and I decided it would only be right to get as much information as we could of Chief Eagle, their family, and meet the Descendents of one of the most inspiring images we had come across in hopes to educate our audience about Native American culture and history. So Joe and I packed our bags and booked a trip to fly out to Ronan, Montana where the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation live.
     We arrived at the airport, obviously excited, a bit nervous, and definitely out of our element. There were stuffed taxidermy bears, eagles and other animals inside the tiny Missoula airport, definitely nothing like LAX. When we arrived, Roberta told me how the family was already “fighting” over where they were going to take us the next day. They had already planned a menu, and activities such as taking us to an Native American rodeo and even visiting Chief Eagles grave site. Needless to say it was a pretty sleepless night from anticipation and excitement.

   The next morning Joe and I made the trek from Missoula, Montana to Ronan, Montana which was about an hour drive. We pulled up to their family’s home where we were greeted by Roberta who gave us an amazingly warm welcome. We could see they were already setting up the tent and prepping the food for the lunch we were about to have. We were introduce to the descendents of Chief Eagle and their kids, and they started sharing stories of their family’s history, about their reservation and or course the history of Chief Eagle.

    Chief Eagle passed away in 1908 but we learned he was a very influential Chief and did many great things for the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The family also speaks Pend d’Oreille which is the native language of their people. After a few more hand shakes Roberta and Charis took us to Chief Eagles grave site. That was probably one of the most intense experiences - pulling up to the site and standing over a person who we felt so connected with yet had never met. We reflected in silence on the situation and in honor of the journey Chief Eagle had taken us on. After we departed from the grave site, they also took us to their city hall, their skate park, and ended the day at Flathead Lake. One of the most beautiful, and serene lakes I’ve seen.

We finally got back to their home where even more family had shown up by this time. After a few more introductions and hand shakes, they asked us all to hold hands and gave thanks for the opportunity to meet each other. We then feasted on the amazing meal that they prepared for us. That’s when Joe and I wanted to present their family who had been so hospitable with some gifts we brought as a token of our appreciation. We called for everyone’s attention and thanked everyone for being so gracious to invite us to their home. We opened a box of shirts and told them it was our gift to them in which we printed the original Chief Eagle photo (this time without the sunglasses) just for them, and gave everyone shirts as well as some other ROOK goodies. Then Joe presented the original drawing litho one off print to Charis  who had originally connected us together. We decided that we would replace the original drawing that hangs in our office with a photo of their family (attached). We feel that the original illustration is better in their hands and that it’s in its rightful home now.

Before we left we talked with Chief Eagle’s family about a collaboration with them to help educate our community about Native American culture and the history behind these iconic images. Look out for Fall ‘13 for this upcoming collaboration. We will be spending more time with the family, learning more about their culture, and educating ourselves and our fans not only about this graphic but the rich history and great people behind it, all of which mean so much to us. Stay tuned…

By, Jon G

Special Thanks to Roberta Toby for helping me with the information of this post and bringing everyone together!

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