Photo: Margaret Dubin.

Melvin Stokes, Yurok tribal member, was born in Hoopa on July 16, 1945. His early years were spent along the Klamath River. He was surrounded by his beloved Jake and Moore families. The 1955 and 1964 floods in Klamath had a great impact, so his family was relocated to Crescent City. He attended schools in Klamath and Crescent City and graduated from Del Norte High School in 1964.

Mel’s father passed away when he was 16 and he spent a memorable summer in the California Central Valley with his extended Stokes family. During that visit, he enjoyed celebrating his shared July birthday with his cousins. He cherished his relationships with his Stokes grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters and many cousins.

Mel learned so much from his grandfather awok Morris Jake, his great uncle awok Donald Moore, his great uncle awok Glenn Moore, his great-uncle awok Haynes Moore, and his uncle awok Theodore Jake. He enjoyed spending time on the Klamath River with his Moore cousins,  most particularly at Scregon, Pecwan, Blue Creek, Moore Ranch, Moore Rock, Requa and Young’s Bar.

He loved fishing and eeling on the Klamath River with his friends and family. He always shared fish with elders, family and others who could not fish for themselves. He taught others the importance of sharing the fish you catch and “you shoot it, you eat it.” Mel learned carving from his elders and was able to make traditional fishing and eeling tools. His favorite eel hooks he made with yew wood and the hooks repurposed from headliners of wrecked Cadillacs. His best eeling partner was awok Les Moore. He always was fishing and spent many hours mending nets. The last time he set net at Moore Rock was with his daughter Stella.

He worked in lumber mills and construction in his early years. He also worked at the notorious Club Hoopa as a bartender and bouncer. This is where he met his boss and longtime friend Lillian “Mush” Hostler.

He attended College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University, earning his Bachelor’s degree was in Psychology. His senior project was compiling Yurok language vocabulary with awok Jessie Exline, awok Aileen Figureoa, awok Theodore Jake, and awok Glenn Moore. Mel was the first person in his family to graduate from college. He was an ITEPP (Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program) graduate. He made many lifelong friendships with students and professors.

The winter of 1986 was particularly difficult due to the loss of his brother awok David Stokes, and his uncle awok Theodore Jake. On April 1, 1986, Mel stopped drinking. This drastically changed his life for the better. He celebrated his 31st sobriety birthday on April 1, 2017. Mel worked as a substance abuse counselor at United Indian Health Services and the Indian Lodge. He also ran AA meetings at College of the Redwoods for students. Mel worked at Two Feathers Native American Family Services. He was supportive to many family and community members’ sobriety and made many lifelong relationships. Mel was on the United Indian Health Services board and the California Rural Indian Health Board. He was passionate about Indigenous health and wellbriety.

Mel worked as an advisor at College of the Redwoods for many years. He strongly believed in the importance of higher education. He recruited, encouraged, and supported many Native students. He made many lifelong friendships with students and colleagues. After he stopped being an advisor, he would still encourage Native students to pursue higher education College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University and would occasionally take prospective students on tours.

Mel was honored to be part of the formation of the Yurok Tribe and be on the Yurok Transition Team. He prized his first Yurok tribal identification card that bears Susie Long’s signature.

Mel enjoyed making dance regalia from abalone, pine nuts, dentalia shells, clam shells, olivella shells and cedar berries for decades. He polished, tumbled, shaped, and ground abalone. He especially loved Montana blue beads. When constructing dance necklaces he took care to match the size and thickness of the abalone pieces, as this preserved the “song” of each shell. This became his signature. “Each necklace has its own voice, each one has a different song”. His business cards stated “Wear it in A Good Way”. He believed in the importance of dance ceremony. Mel made many dance necklaces and regalia pieces for the Tolowa Nation, the Sundberg family, the Risling family, the George family, the Melvin family, the Mattz family, the Tripp family, the Obie family, the Hostler family, the Jackson family, the Seidner family, the Norton family, and many other individuals and families.

In recent years, he enjoyed spending time with Vivian Snyder, Joanne Moore, Barbara Orcutt, Betty Jackson, Janice Green, Annette Reed, Steve Crum and Joe Giovannetti.

Mel enjoyed golfing. Some of his favorite golf buddies were Joe Daignault and awok Ron Moore. He shared his love of golf with his daughter, Anne, and granddaughter, Alison. Mel enjoyed listening to Rocky McCovey’s golf stories at Rocky’s barber shop.

Mel enjoyed telling stories and jokes. Many will remember his storytelling at Sumeg Village Day and Storytelling by the Sea. He was a captivating storyteller wherever he went.

Mel had a soft spot for his cats, Chmuuek and Meraas. Chmuuek always got tangled in the nets and stole fish heads and nips. Meraas is the boss of the house.

Mel loved country music, western movies, playing cards, going to yard sales, and western novels.

Mel passed away peacefully at home due to complications of pneumonia and cancer on April 28, 2017.

He is survived by sister, Lola Stokes Webster, brothers, Wallace Kingsley and Phillip Kingsley. His spouse, Ellen Poitras. His children: Chris Holsworth, Leonard “Chum” Bailey, Melvin “JR” Stokes, Jr., Donald “Randy” Stokes,Winona Aubrey-Herzog, Shekky Bowen Sr., Scraigon Earhart-Stokes, Anne (Stokes) McCovey, and Stella Stokes. Grandchildren: Adam Pool, Brantley Thompson, Levi Thompson, Shekky Bowen, Jr., Denzel Bailey, Nellie Bailey, Zach Bowen, Max Bowen, Carol McCovey, Alison Osceola, Vivian McCovey, and Amethyst Earhart-Stokes. Great grandchildren: Sophia, Lozden, and Terryn Pool. His nieces and nephews include: Wally, Charlie, Mike, Wayne, Cassaundra, David Durward, Tamra, Ted, Summer, Jasmine, and Kristina. His cousins: Bill Stokes and Nell Stokes and family and Franklin and Stanford Jake. He is survived by many beloved friends and family.

There is a special place in all our hearts for Veronica and Paul Van Mechelen, Brandy and Hector Natt, Pecwan Jake, Phil Williams, Jackie Kingsley, Jalea Walker-Orcutt, and Heather Hood. They are more than friends and family.

Mel is preceded in death by grandparents awok Robert Stokes; awok Lola Stokes; awok Morris Jake; awok Stella Jake; his mother, awok Christine Kingsley; his father awok Durward Stokes; his daughter awok Michael Marie Pool; sister awok Evelyn Kuech; brother awok David Stokes; awok Carl Stokes; awok Theodore Jake; awok Frankie Jake; awok Marie Jake; awok Lester Jake, awok Donald Moore; awok Glenn Moore; awok Edward Moore; awok Grover Moore; awok Ben Moore; awok Haynes Moore; awok Gerald Moore; awok Donald “Pookie” Moore; awok Les Moore; awok Arnold Moore; awok Carol De La Rosa and many more beloved family members.

Plans for a celebration of life are pending. An announcement will be made later for an afternoon food, stories, and pictures. Please remember him with smiles, laughter, and good stories.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to Stella Stokes’ college fund at Coast Central Credit Union. #214913


The obituary above was submitted by Melvin Stokes’ family. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.