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Elaine Miles (born April 7, 1960, in Pendleton, Oregon) is an American actress known for her role as Marilyn Whirlwind in the television series Northern Exposure.

Elaine Miles
Elaine Miles 2001 cropped retouched.jpg
Miles in 2001
Born (1960-04-07) April 7, 1960 (age 59)
OccupationActress, Stand-up comedian



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.[1] 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.[1][2]


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.[1] She had no previous acting experience.[2] However, Elaine ("Choppie") Miles, in her teens, used to work summers, portraying Sacajawea at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site, in Vancouver, Washington.[3] 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.[2]

In 1995, Miles was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the Northern Exposure cast in the category, Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.[4]

Since Northern Exposure, Miles 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.[2] With fellow comedian Drew LaCapa (Apache), she has made an exercise video ("RezRobics") addressing diabetes rates among Native Americans.[2] 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.[5]


Year Title Role Notes
1990-1995 Northern Exposure Marilyn Whirlwind TV series, 110 episodes
1994 Bill Nye, the Science Guy self documentary, TV series, 2 episodes
1995 Mad Love Housekeeper feature film
1996 The Rez Mad Etta TV series, 18 episodes
1996 Pandora's Clock Housekeeper TV mini-series, 2 of 2 episodes
1998 Scattering Dad TV movie
1998 Smoke Signals Lucy feature film
2002 The Business of Fancydancing Kim feature film
2002 Skins Rondella Roubaix feature film
2003 Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American self, archive footage documentary, TV movie
2007 Tortilla Heaven Caridad feature film
2008 Fry Bread Babes self documentary, short film
2009 Wyvern Deputy Barnes TV movie
2012 Universal VIP N'ah short film
2012 By the Salish Sea Salish Woman voice, short film
2014 Four Quarters Mrs. Burke feature film
2015 Fishing Naked Louise 'Grandma' Ottertale feature film
2019 Juanita Mountain feature film


  1. ^ a b c Taylor, Catherine "Marilyn Speaks! A Conversation with Elaine Miles", Radiance Magazine, Fall 1993 Issue
  2. ^ a b c d e Biography: Elaine Miles Archived 2006-05-01 at the Wayback Machine on Northern Exposure site. Access date 26 Sep 2009
  3. ^ "February | 2010 | Coyotecooks Blog". Retrieved 2017-11-19.
  4. ^ Awards for Elaine Miles at IMDbPro: Screen Actors Guild Awards. Access date 26 Sep 2009
  5. ^ Rez Robics Archived February 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine

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