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by Karen Tootelian

In the summer of 2002, writer/environmentalist Karen Tootelian began caring for the eighty-nine-year-old Chief of the Mattaponi Tribe, Webster Little Eagle Custalow. What began as her personal journals evolved into a book about their deep friendship and compassion for one another. Told in Ms. Tootelian’s poetic voice, this is also the story of the Mattaponi River, the battle Little Eagle began to save it from a reservoir, and about her own spiritual bond with this river.

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Meet the Author

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Karen Tootelian-Westermann has been writing since childhood. A writer and editor, she is the author of Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Six and John Peter Zenger: Free Press Advocate. Her poetry, feature articles, and environmental essays have been published in a variety of magazines. Karen lived in Ohio, Switzerland, and Illinois before settling in Virginia. She moved to rural Virginia after college and fell in love with its rivers. Karen has a daughter and a son, Jessica and Michael Mountcastle. She now lives with her husband, Lee, and amazing dog Bandit, along the Mattaponi River and fights to protect it from the proposed King William Reservoir.

Press Kit


Formats: Paperback

Pages: 168

ISBN PB: 978-1-883911-75-1

Release Date: 10/01/2007


“Through journal entries that span the beginning of 2002 through the end of 2006, Tootelian chronicles her transformative experience caring for the aging chief of the Mattaponi tribe, Webster Little Eagle Custalow. Born the day the Titanic sank, Custalow, a deeply spiritual leader, was as comfortable on a horse as he was on a motorcycle. Tootelian’s entries—raw, graceful and often poetic—don’t end with Custalow’s death, but continue with her fight to preserve the Mattaponi River, which she came to love as much as she loved the chief himself.”   —V.H. (review published in Style Weekly)

 “The Chief and I is a lyrical tale that snakes along like an old, wise river. It weaves together many stories: the Chief s story, the story of the Mattaponi and of all American Indians, but mostly it is the story of one woman s battle to save the river that nourishes her. Savor this book, and think on the rivers in your life and how they sustain and support you and the communities you treasure.” —Rebecca Wodder, President, American Rivers

“Karen Tootelian s love of nature and the Mattaponi River are as profound as her relationship with her beloved Chief. Full of poetry, wisdom and heart, The Chief and I will make readers cry, then go for a restorative walk in the woods or a swim in the nearest river.” –Chuck Epes, writer/environmentalist

“In so many Native American traditions, leadership is the responsibility to make way for new leaders. In The Chief and I, Karen not only shows the way for today s new leaders but takes the reader into the Native world view to understand the deeply profound qualities of just such egalitarian leadership.” —Rebecca L. Adamson, Founder-First Nations Development Institute & President and Founder of First Peoples Worldwide

“Love and caring for each other and for our environment are themes which dominate this author’s 4 year period as chronicled in her daily journal during the time she came to know and care for the aging Mattaponi Chief Webster Little Eagle Custalow. Not only is this a wonderfully relaxing read but more importantly, the lessons and observations about what is truly important in life are invaluable. The importance of faith, spirituality, respect for all of God’s creations be they human, animal or nature leap from each page. This is one of those books to be read and reread. The writing and lessons of this book will appeal to all ages, from school-age through adults. I love to read but there are only a very few books which I choose to read and reread. This is one.” —Anne T. Norris, 

“The author’s style is lyrical and moving, and I loved the diary-entry format. The author weaves stories about her relationship with the Chief together with observations about politics and conservation, accounts of her experiences with nature, and quotations from important Native American figures. It’s a sweet, uplifting read about the power of caring for each other and for nature.” —Sarah McCollum,

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