Edward Eugene Claplanhoo, a Makah tribal elder and leader, died Sunday in Port Angeles. He was 81.

Whether it was a personal emergency, a tribal concern, or an issue with the federal government, people turned to Edward Eugene Claplanhoo.

A Makah tribal elder and leader, Mr. Claplanhoo had a steady, calm way about him, decades of experience to draw upon and a knack for building consensus.

“He didn’t necessarily talk a lot,” said Marty Bluewater, executive director of the Seattle-based United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. “But when he did talk, it was words of wisdom.”

Mr. Claplanhoo died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 81.

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Throughout his life, Mr. Claplanhoo played an influential role in the Makah tribe, serving as tribal chairman, on the tribal council and with numerous groups including the tribe’s whaling commission and its higher-education and election boards.

In the 1970s, he was instrumental in developing the Makah Cultural and Research Center on the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, Clallam County.

A few years earlier, an archaeological dig in Ozette on the Olympic Peninsula had uncovered a Makah village that had partially been buried by a mudslide nearly 500 years ago. Some 55,000 well-preserved artifacts, from baskets to fish hooks, were found.

The tribe decided to create a museum to display some of those artifacts, and Mr. Claplanhoo made sure Makah elders were involved and that the museum’s quality was high, said Janine Bowechop, the center’s executive director.

Even when he wasn’t serving in an official capacity, Mr. Claplanhoo was a mentor to many. He advised tribal council members and, as a proud Washington State University graduate, encouraged young people to seek higher education.

“He’d always remind you to be proud of who you are,” said tribe member Joe McGimpsey.

He also served as emcee at potlatches and gatherings, including the annual Makah Days celebration.

Mr. Claplanhoo also built relationships with those in other tribes and was good at forging agreements among the approximately 10 tribes on the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation board, which he chaired for five years.

An Army veteran, Mr. Claplanhoo, along with his wife, Thelma Claplanhoo, donated land last year to help establish a veterans park and monument on the reservation. He also served as a leader within the Neah Bay Assembly of God Church.

“It seemed like he could help anybody,” his wife said. “He was just a love, I tell you.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Claplanhoo is survived by their daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Jack Werkau, of Lake Tapps; their son and daughter-in law, Vern and Marla Tolliver, of Neah Bay; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Harper-Ridgeview Funeral Chapel, 105 W. Fourth St., in Port Angeles, and a memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Neah Bay Junior/Senior High School, 3560 Deer St., Neah Bay.

Donations in his memory may be made to Fort Núñez Gaona — Diah Veterans Park, c/o Robert Buckingham, P.O. Box 137, Makah Marina, Neah Bay, WA 98357.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com