It’s a kind of magic

by Arigon Starr
News From Indian Country

You never know who you’ll meet on the road.

I performed during September at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Tucked amongst an amazing collection of dinosaur bones, I was pleased to represent Native America with songs, stories and a lot of humor.

This was my first trip to Montana and I had to include time to visit the very famous Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Along the Grand Teton roadside is the Coulter Bay Indian Arts Museum. David T. Vernon collected hundreds of Native artifacts and they are rather tastefully displayed for the millions of visitors to enjoy.

Downstairs, there were two Native folks displaying their beadwork and crafts and chatting with visitors about Native culture. I always enjoy meeting Indian folks while I’m on the road and took time to talk with Debbie and Willy LaMere. They seemed to be an unassuming Native couple, the types you’d see vending at a Pow-Wow. As we continued our conversation, Debbie told me something amazing about her husband. “He’s a magician,” she beamed.

I’ve met many performers from comedians to performance artists to hip hop rappers across Indian Country and have never met a Native magician. This was new.

Known in the magic community as “Wilbur the Coyote Trickster,” Willy LaMere draws on his Shoshone Bannock heritage to create a magic show that has thrilled audiences of all ages.

When you think of Indian entertainers, the image of a guy with a flute comes to mind, or maybe someone dancing in pow-wow regalia. That this gentle Native man would take his Native heritage and “presto, change-o” become a wand-wielding magician blew my mind.

LaMere has been performing most of his life. Raised by his traditional grandparents, he grew up in the Pow-Wow world. However, he was always aware of the inherent “mystery” in Native culture and performed his first magic trick when he was in fifth grade. He set aside his dreams of becoming a master magician when he met and married Debbie. The family formed a group of traditional dancers and singers and performed around the Wyoming, Idaho and Montana area. When the children were grown, LaMere turned his attention back to magic.

At a performance of the famous Pendragons magic show in Las Vegas, Willy met genius magician Jonathan Pendragon. They’ve been featured on television and Jonathan Pendragon was named one of the ten living magicians whose work has shaped the industry in the 20th and 21st centuries. “Jonathan became a friend and now a mentor,” said LaMere. “He’s such an influence that I’ve adopted him as my brother and he’s an honorary member of the Shoshone Tribe.”

It’s easy for me to see why Jonathan Pendragon was impressed by Willy LaMere. He deeply respects his traditions, family and culture. LaMere even went the extra mile to perform his act in front of Shoshone elders who approved of his strong cultural message. “It was important for me to get their blessing, because I want to do things in the right way,” he said. “I want to diffuse and do away with Native stereotypes with my show. We’re not what people think we are and we aren’t those Indians you see on TV.”

Willy LaMere and his wife are now in Las Vegas pursuing their dream. “This isn’t overnight success,” he told me over the phone. “Procrastination will rob you of your dreams. I really want this. Sacrifice is part of the deal. If you’re a young person with a dream, you choose to give up the partying lifestyle. For me and Debbie, we’re sacrificing spending time with our precious grandchildren.”

The LaMeres are making the rounds, working to sign “Wilber the Coyote Trickster” with an agent. They will perform in Las Vegas – but Willy wants to take his act to Indian Country Casinos.

“We’re ready to travel. My children are grown – and some of them are now anxious to help me with my show doing sound and music. We have many traditional elements in the show. My goal with my magic show is when Native audiences leave the show, they’re proud they’re Native American – and that non-Native audiences wish they were Native,” he enthused.

I know meeting Willy and Debbie LaMere made me proud to be Native.

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"Wilbur the Coyote Trickster," Willy LaMere