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April 7, 1960 |
Elaine Miles was born in Pendleton, Oregon, of Cayuse/Nez Perce ancestry, and lived to the age of three on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon. Her family then moved to Renton, Washington, where her father was a Boeing machinist. She learned many of the traditional skills in her youth—storytelling, beading, pottery and weaving—and is a prize-winning traditional dancer.
Miles was offered the role of Marilyn Whirlwind when she was spotted in the waiting room at an audition. This came as a surprise as she had not come with any intent to audition—she was only there to give her mother, Armenia Miles, a ride. She had no previous acting experience. She gained respect in the American Indian community not only for portraying a Tlingit woman, but for her efforts to make sure the character was a culturally accurate representation. Miles was named Native American Woman of the Year in 1993, and America's Celebrity Indian of the Year in 1995.
Since Northern Exposure she has done tours with her dancing and stand-up comedy, has emceed at numerous Pow-wows, and had roles in independent films such as Smoke Signals, Skins and The Business of Fancydancing. With fellow comedian Drew LaCapa (Apache), she has made an exercise video ("RezRobics") addressing diabetes rates among Native Americans. The video mixes pow wow dancing, martial arts and aerobics moves with nutritional advice. In contrast to the usual FBI warning, the creators encourage people to copy the video freely and distribute it among friends and relatives in Indian Country.