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Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir

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In the spring, the bear returns to the forest, the glacier returns to its source, and the salmon returns to the fresh water where it was spawned. Drawing on the special relationship that the Native people of southeastern Alaska have always had with nature, Blonde Indian is a story about returning. Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social a In the spring, the bear returns to the forest, the glacier returns to its source, and the salmon returns to the fresh water where it was spawned. Drawing on the special relationship that the Native people of southeastern Alaska have always had with nature, Blonde Indian is a story about returning. Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social and spiritual journeys, this enchanting memoir traces the author’s life from her difficult childhood growing up in the Tlingit community, through her adulthood, during which she lived for some time in Seattle and San Francisco, and eventually to her return home. Neither fully Native American nor Euro-American, Hayes encounters a unique sense of alienation from both her Native community and the dominant culture. We witness her struggles alongside other Tlingit men and women—many of whom never left their Native community but wrestle with their own challenges, including unemployment, prejudice, alcoholism, and poverty. The author’s personal journey, the symbolic stories of contemporary Natives, and the tales and legends that have circulated among the Tlingit people for centuries are all woven together, making Blonde Indian much more than the story of one woman’s life. Filled with anecdotes, descriptions, and histories that are unique to the Tlingit community, this book is a document of cultural heritage, a tribute to the Alaskan landscape, and a moving testament to how going back—in nature and in life—allows movement forward.


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In the spring, the bear returns to the forest, the glacier returns to its source, and the salmon returns to the fresh water where it was spawned. Drawing on the special relationship that the Native people of southeastern Alaska have always had with nature, Blonde Indian is a story about returning. Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social a In the spring, the bear returns to the forest, the glacier returns to its source, and the salmon returns to the fresh water where it was spawned. Drawing on the special relationship that the Native people of southeastern Alaska have always had with nature, Blonde Indian is a story about returning. Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social and spiritual journeys, this enchanting memoir traces the author’s life from her difficult childhood growing up in the Tlingit community, through her adulthood, during which she lived for some time in Seattle and San Francisco, and eventually to her return home. Neither fully Native American nor Euro-American, Hayes encounters a unique sense of alienation from both her Native community and the dominant culture. We witness her struggles alongside other Tlingit men and women—many of whom never left their Native community but wrestle with their own challenges, including unemployment, prejudice, alcoholism, and poverty. The author’s personal journey, the symbolic stories of contemporary Natives, and the tales and legends that have circulated among the Tlingit people for centuries are all woven together, making Blonde Indian much more than the story of one woman’s life. Filled with anecdotes, descriptions, and histories that are unique to the Tlingit community, this book is a document of cultural heritage, a tribute to the Alaskan landscape, and a moving testament to how going back—in nature and in life—allows movement forward.

30 review for Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Blonde Indian is the January selection for Erin and Dani's Book Club - Ernestine tells the story of her life but it is also about the land we call Alaska, the Tlingit people, and many stories of lives branching off from her own. There are segments of prose describing the natural world, but more importantly her connection to it, that I found to be gorgeous and what I connected to with my own wooded childhood. Blonde Indian is the January selection for Erin and Dani's Book Club - Ernestine tells the story of her life but it is also about the land we call Alaska, the Tlingit people, and many stories of lives branching off from her own. There are segments of prose describing the natural world, but more importantly her connection to it, that I found to be gorgeous and what I connected to with my own wooded childhood.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Wow, this book is a memoir like none I’ve ever read before. Hayes tells her own life story in a wild meander that skips back and forth across time, blending her recollections with Tlingit storytelling and lush descriptions of the land and local wildlife. The chronology being difficult to follow was never distracting, as that’s absolutely not the point of this book. That feeling is rare for me because usually I find the sense of time to be the make-or-break factor in whether a memoir will flow we Wow, this book is a memoir like none I’ve ever read before. Hayes tells her own life story in a wild meander that skips back and forth across time, blending her recollections with Tlingit storytelling and lush descriptions of the land and local wildlife. The chronology being difficult to follow was never distracting, as that’s absolutely not the point of this book. That feeling is rare for me because usually I find the sense of time to be the make-or-break factor in whether a memoir will flow well for me. In this short but dense, rich text, the sense of place is the driver instead and it flows beautifully. This book was just so good, and I highly recommend you add this one to your TBR if you enjoy reading memoirs, or really even if you don’t, because this one is definitely different and it’s exceptional.⁣ ⁣ Cw for domestic abuse, alcoholism, suicide

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rick Morrison

    I had the good fortune to take several writing courses with Ernestine at UAS in Juneau, which is how this wonderful book came to my attention. Through these courses, I heard several of the stories that entered this book, as well as the development and editing process as she approached publication. Ernestine is hands down my favorite professor, and I feel immensely fortunate to have studied with such a great author. Blonde Indian blends memoir, Tlingit stories, natural history and fiction into a t I had the good fortune to take several writing courses with Ernestine at UAS in Juneau, which is how this wonderful book came to my attention. Through these courses, I heard several of the stories that entered this book, as well as the development and editing process as she approached publication. Ernestine is hands down my favorite professor, and I feel immensely fortunate to have studied with such a great author. Blonde Indian blends memoir, Tlingit stories, natural history and fiction into a tale not just of Ernestine herself, but also of the Tlingit people and their land. This book is fairly short, ~175 pages, and I think it's brevity serves it well. Its lean and strong, hitting harder than you'd expect. In studying with Ernestine, I learned a lot. Her critiques were always strong and thoughtful, steering me further from the derivative work that so many young writers are guilty of, and I never felt scolded or chastened. Each move forward let me see where I could go, and I was exciting for the next step. Despite these advances, my work was still cloaked in escapism - sometimes a specific Outside city, sometimes a nameless Anytown, USA, but never set in my home state of Alaska. This book is her greatest lesson of all: what Alaskan writing can be if you fight for it. In my experience up until this book, I found Alaskan literature to be many things - cute, quaint, dry - but never for me. Much of the work I read about Alaska seemed largely aimed at Outside audiences, or with no audience at all. Blonde Indian hits on so many levels that it gave me faith in Alaskan literature again. In this short book, she touches on the Alaskan experience before and after Statehood, life in the indian villages, growing up with mixed heritage and absent parents, the effects of alcohol in small towns and in the history of Native Alaskans in particular, failed relationships, and the many facets of the Alaskan landscape. She shows here that Alaska can be the setting for compelling stories, and not just the kooky and quaint work that is so often presented. There are many reasons to love this book. Above all else, this work is woven by a master storyteller. Ernestine weaves many threads tightly and elegantly in Blonde Indian, leaving me excited for having read it, and eager to pick up my pen. Gunalchéesh, Ernestine.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Klassen

    3.5 rounded up Blonde Indian was an enjoyable memoir that coloured outside the lines of what a memoir typically is (to great effect). I loved the layers to this memoir. We are not only learning about Ernestine's life but also the story of Ernestine's mother, Tom, the Raven, the reciprocal relationships in nature. It's the memoir of a couple Tlingit people and the land of the Tlingit known today as Alaska. While they aren't all directly related, these stories weave in and out of the book and show 3.5 rounded up Blonde Indian was an enjoyable memoir that coloured outside the lines of what a memoir typically is (to great effect). I loved the layers to this memoir. We are not only learning about Ernestine's life but also the story of Ernestine's mother, Tom, the Raven, the reciprocal relationships in nature. It's the memoir of a couple Tlingit people and the land of the Tlingit known today as Alaska. While they aren't all directly related, these stories weave in and out of the book and show that stories and land are all interconnected. Tom and Saankaláxt (Ernestine's Tlingit name) are who they are because of where they grew up and where their ancestors lived. Tom's narrative was so compelling to me, even more so than Ernestine's at times. His time in residential school, his struggles with addiction, and with raising a child without the steady help of a partner through his alcoholism really got me in the heart. We have little information on his connection to Ernestine so he is perhaps a fictional representation of a lot of Tlingit people that Ernestine knows, their histories and experiences distilled into a powerful, singular figure. His story is the story of many. His inclusion in this book took it beyond a memoir and into a book that highlights structural violence against Indigenous peoples in many forms and to many people. It's a memoir, a history, a collection of origin tales and Tlingit stories. And nothing feels short-changed despite this book being quite slim. It still packs a punch. I flagged a few passages in this book that were stunning. Passages that describe the natural world and the peaceful co-existance and cooperation that exists beyond the damage of colonization and white settler culture. The land is itself a character in this story, a presence that grounds the successes and troubles of Hayes' and Tom's lives as they struggle to return to stability after the pervasive forces of capitalism and colonialism. The writing was dense but beautiful, the descriptions of waiting in lines at soup kitchens as poetic and engrossing as portions on salmon spawnings and bears fattening up her cubs. The rich colours danced before my eyes.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is an important book. The writing is not always consistently stellar, but the shape of it and its content, the style of it are important. Hayes weaves together personal memoir, Tlingit stories, natural history, and her own, invented modern Tlingit myths (Old Tom and Young Tom) -- myths not necessarily idealizing life, but trying to find rhythm and story within in. In the book, Hayes’s own journey to and from Alaska becomes equated with the journey of salmon out to their mysterious dark wate This is an important book. The writing is not always consistently stellar, but the shape of it and its content, the style of it are important. Hayes weaves together personal memoir, Tlingit stories, natural history, and her own, invented modern Tlingit myths (Old Tom and Young Tom) -- myths not necessarily idealizing life, but trying to find rhythm and story within in. In the book, Hayes’s own journey to and from Alaska becomes equated with the journey of salmon out to their mysterious dark watery place of growth and back to their spawning streams, where their bodies make possible the next generation. Through repetition, Hayes signals her own understanding of this myth-making. What’s powerful is that Hayes’s own memoir anchors the stories and allows Native identity to leave the rivers and mountains of Alaska and go out to the southwest, to California’s Tenderloin, to the world we all struggle through -- and then to come home. She finds solace in the larger history of her people. She looks at herself and her family unflinchingly. This is the book's strength.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charlott

    I am currently reading „Craft In The Real World“ by Matthew Salesses. In this book, Salesses emphasizes that every narrative convention you might hold dear or craft decisions you deem “good” are culturally specific and in no way universal. One of the things he writes about is “repetition” (which in an Anglo-Western understanding is mostly a bad thing in prose). I was reminded of this while reading Lingít author Ernestine Hayes’ beautifully written memoir “Blonde Indian”. Early in the book, Hayes I am currently reading „Craft In The Real World“ by Matthew Salesses. In this book, Salesses emphasizes that every narrative convention you might hold dear or craft decisions you deem “good” are culturally specific and in no way universal. One of the things he writes about is “repetition” (which in an Anglo-Western understanding is mostly a bad thing in prose). I was reminded of this while reading Lingít author Ernestine Hayes’ beautifully written memoir “Blonde Indian”. Early in the book, Hayes tells the story of Raven only to get back to that story a few pages later, repeat it with more details. This repetition is obviously purposeful. It creates a rhythm in the text and creates layers. In Blonde Indian, Hayes recounts her childhood in Alaska, her youth and adult life in different parts of the US, and her homecoming to Alaska. But this is not a linear story, instead, the narrative meanders, one story leads to another. Hayes interweaves her memories with lush descriptions of nature, with history and folklore, with stories of other people. But she also lays open the realities and repercussions of past and ongoing colonial violence. A book to read (and possibly reread) slowly and carefully.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    If you're a fan of memoirs, this is one you'll want to check out for how beautifully it uses the form. Its non-linear movement through time alongside the nature writing worked so symbiotically--the lush and sense-evoking descriptions of place as mesmerizing as the way that animals (particularly bears and salmon) were written. While its a book I'd hesitate to compare to anything else I've read, it was a wonderful companion read to take in alongside This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories a If you're a fan of memoirs, this is one you'll want to check out for how beautifully it uses the form. Its non-linear movement through time alongside the nature writing worked so symbiotically--the lush and sense-evoking descriptions of place as mesmerizing as the way that animals (particularly bears and salmon) were written. While its a book I'd hesitate to compare to anything else I've read, it was a wonderful companion read to take in alongside This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories and World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments Very grateful to Erin and Dani for prompting me to read this as part of their January bookclub (@erinanddanisbookclub on IG)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    For the first half of this book I thought it was wonderful but not quite as beautiful and moving as The Tao of Raven (a solid 5+ and one of the most beautiful books I've ever read). Well, I was wrong. I honestly can't tell you which book is better, which one is more beautiful or heartbreaking or hopeful. What I can tell you is that if I could choose one book as required reading for anyone who lives in or visits Juneau, or even anywhere in Southeast Alaska, I would choose this one. And then I wou For the first half of this book I thought it was wonderful but not quite as beautiful and moving as The Tao of Raven (a solid 5+ and one of the most beautiful books I've ever read). Well, I was wrong. I honestly can't tell you which book is better, which one is more beautiful or heartbreaking or hopeful. What I can tell you is that if I could choose one book as required reading for anyone who lives in or visits Juneau, or even anywhere in Southeast Alaska, I would choose this one. And then I would follow with an urging recommendation to read The Tao of Raven as well. And then I would tell anyone, even those who have no desire to see or know the "mountain behind mountain behind islands behind islands" of the Lingit Aani, that these two books are worth reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    L.C.

    An honest depiction of her life. Story jumped in timeline, usually a narrative form I appreciate, but this felt redundant at times. Beautiful story, heartbreakingly honest. A courageous level of honesty.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Celeste Miller

    Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes.  This was a wonderful start to the year of Indigenous memoirs for me because of my connection with SE Alaska and my partner's family. For the last nine years I've gone to Sitka about 2-3 times a year and have grown to love it, no matter the season. I've been to Juneau and Ketchikan a few times. I enjoyed many things about this book but I especially loved her poetic descriptions of the land, the water, and the plants and animals.  It was amazing and made me miss Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes.  This was a wonderful start to the year of Indigenous memoirs for me because of my connection with SE Alaska and my partner's family. For the last nine years I've gone to Sitka about 2-3 times a year and have grown to love it, no matter the season. I've been to Juneau and Ketchikan a few times. I enjoyed many things about this book but I especially loved her poetic descriptions of the land, the water, and the plants and animals.  It was amazing and made me miss Sitka  so much!  She makes so clear that Tlingit culture is so interconnected with the land, and that it is impossible to separate the two. "Ours is not a history that could have taken place anywhere. It is a history that could have been realized only upon the very land from which our culture receives its essential spirit." The author spent her early years in Juneau, being raised and taught traditional Tlingit knowledge by her grandma.  After those early years, she moved to Washington, then California, and eventually came home at 40. The book chronicles her journey which was at times very heartbreaking. "By some force they are driven away from their mother streams, just as in a year or two years or more they will be pulled back by an equally unexplained force. It is known only that they go. They go somewhere away from their home to grow, to mature, to learn, to wait that long long time before they finally respond to the irresistible call to return." "Somewhere in the deep ocean, they will grow, and they will mature, and they will strengthen. They will go into seaward waters so deep that even though it is daytime, there are still dark and dangerous places. They will live there. They will be absent and incomplete there. One day it will be time for them to go home,  and they will gather. They will finally be called home. Called by the bear and by the people. Called by the land."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joy Gerbode

    This is a delightful combination of memories of a life in Alaska, among others, a beautiful description of the beauty and majesty of Alaska, and the tale of the animals and the people who are one with nature. It's a busy season in my life ... the next time we cruise to Alaska I'll be delighted to take this book along, as much of it reminded me of places we enjoyed there, and brought good memories. I've often wondered how anyone could leave such a gorgeous place ... so there was that puzzle for m This is a delightful combination of memories of a life in Alaska, among others, a beautiful description of the beauty and majesty of Alaska, and the tale of the animals and the people who are one with nature. It's a busy season in my life ... the next time we cruise to Alaska I'll be delighted to take this book along, as much of it reminded me of places we enjoyed there, and brought good memories. I've often wondered how anyone could leave such a gorgeous place ... so there was that puzzle for me somewhat answered in this story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    The vivid story-telling that is going on in this book has me hooked. I am enjoying the way that the author is weaving stories of her past, the stories of other characters, the stories of her culture, and the perspective of the land and its' evolution along with all the characters into her story. It adds intrigue and wonder to her story, and in many ways offers a more dreamlike quality to the work as a whole. Very good, so far. The story bogged down a bit, perhaps intentionally, as her life wound The vivid story-telling that is going on in this book has me hooked. I am enjoying the way that the author is weaving stories of her past, the stories of other characters, the stories of her culture, and the perspective of the land and its' evolution along with all the characters into her story. It adds intrigue and wonder to her story, and in many ways offers a more dreamlike quality to the work as a whole. Very good, so far. The story bogged down a bit, perhaps intentionally, as her life wound into the streets. I liked the story-telling that she was able to do when she returned from California. This was a powerful book that, subtly, had a lot to say about the circle of oppression and poverty in America. I would suggest this book to anyone interested in reading a good, vivid writer paint an interesting dreamscape for 170 pages.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

    I have been living in a small Alaskan village for 5 months. This book was suggested by our book club. It is a memoir written by a woman of half Tlinget, half Caucasian descent. I disliked greatly the format of the book and some stylistic things she did drove me crazy. In addition some of the content was disturbing. For example: the claim that she believes her ancestors mated with the brown bear and that’s why they don’t eat them. The thing I appreciated most about the book was the way she attemp I have been living in a small Alaskan village for 5 months. This book was suggested by our book club. It is a memoir written by a woman of half Tlinget, half Caucasian descent. I disliked greatly the format of the book and some stylistic things she did drove me crazy. In addition some of the content was disturbing. For example: the claim that she believes her ancestors mated with the brown bear and that’s why they don’t eat them. The thing I appreciated most about the book was the way she attempted to describe nature with great care and intense observation.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Denise Olin

    I had a hard time getting past the beginning, only because it stirred up emotions from my childhood and not being accepted by either/or. Later I was lost on the other person's story being intertwined into her story, so I didn't really want to continue reading. I did finish it though. Was disappointed in the layout if the story. I have a lot of respect for what was revealed though and a lot of respect for Ernestine! I took a writing workshop she'd led and loved it! I had a hard time getting past the beginning, only because it stirred up emotions from my childhood and not being accepted by either/or. Later I was lost on the other person's story being intertwined into her story, so I didn't really want to continue reading. I did finish it though. Was disappointed in the layout if the story. I have a lot of respect for what was revealed though and a lot of respect for Ernestine! I took a writing workshop she'd led and loved it!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Debbi

    The writing was very uneven. Although it is a memoir, it combines a number of different genres. Sometimes it is a retelling of myths, sometimes a nature essay and sometimes a collection of personal anecdotes. Blonde Indian is yet another reminder of the grim lives lived by many natives in our prosperous country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    Such a lovely book! E. Hayes carefully weaves story and setting so that you taste the berries and smell the ocean. Memoir writing at its best! Kudos for such an honest experience of culture in a time and place that needs more voices such as Hayes! Native Women Writers!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Toren

    This book is part memoir, part novel and part nature essay with a little poetry thrown in. Some parts are beautifully written and very poetic, but overall I think it’s really inconsistent, repetitive and jumpy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    I read Ernestine Hayes’s The Tao of Raven last year. I was so taken by it that I decided to read her previous book, Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir. I’ve been reading about American Indians recently as well. Seldom do the colonizing Europeans come off looking good. Nor should they. Given my particular interest in religion, I notice some inevitable clashes here: Christianity, with its missionary mandate, spread along with European technology and diseases. Native religions, on the other han I read Ernestine Hayes’s The Tao of Raven last year. I was so taken by it that I decided to read her previous book, Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir. I’ve been reading about American Indians recently as well. Seldom do the colonizing Europeans come off looking good. Nor should they. Given my particular interest in religion, I notice some inevitable clashes here: Christianity, with its missionary mandate, spread along with European technology and diseases. Native religions, on the other hand, involved an intimate connection to the land. As I used to tell my students when lecturing on archaeology: if people settled in a place, even if it was destroyed, later people would probably also see the advantages of that place and settle there again. This is complicated when people already live in the land. Hayes’ memoir demonstrates that not only were native Alaskans pushed aside by the United States’ government, they are still being pushed aside. Many of them live in unspeakable poverty because “white” privileges are denied them. Systemic racism keeps them subdued. The amazing thing, as my blog post about the book (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World) notes, is that Hayes does not come across as bitter. She has had a hard life. She mourns being kept off her ancestral land by invaders, but is determined to make the best of it. I grew up poor. Still, my poverty was nothing like that described here. Although we didn’t have health insurance, I was never kicked out of the hospital or denied medical care. Our house was in poor shape, but I never had to stay in a shelter. When I finally went to buy a house I encountered no red-lining. Blonde Indian introduces many of the people the reader meets in The Tao of Raven. Hayes’ skill as a writer is entirely evident throughout this memoir. How she does it without righteous anger I have no idea. This book, however, will make you think twice before indulging in the jingoism that seems to be all the rage these days.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Velez Diodonet

    "I belong to Glacier Bay...And I loved to hear her say that, for it describes our relationship to the land. Who our land now belongs to, or if land can even be owned to, or if land can even be owned is a question for politicians and philosophers. But we belong to the land...This is our land, for we still belong to it. 'We belong to Lingít Aaní.' We can't help but place our love there." Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes was January's pick for @erinanddanisbookclub. I have never read a memoir like t "I belong to Glacier Bay...And I loved to hear her say that, for it describes our relationship to the land. Who our land now belongs to, or if land can even be owned to, or if land can even be owned is a question for politicians and philosophers. But we belong to the land...This is our land, for we still belong to it. 'We belong to Lingít Aaní.' We can't help but place our love there." Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes was January's pick for @erinanddanisbookclub. I have never read a memoir like this before. Ernestine tells her story through Lingít folklore, sharing the history of Alaska & the landscape & telling anecdotes of other Lingít people. I loved that the format was not linear & gives glimpses of Alaska & its original peoples during different points of time. Where the book shines is the prose. It is raw, emotional & compelling. The story tackles the grief from colonialism, genocide, stolen land, boarding schools, forced assimilation, loss of language and the after effects: alcoholism, poverty, depression, and generational trauma. The descriptive writing paints a picture of the beauty of the landscape and how the natural order of life is sustained through the relationship with the native peoples. Each person in the book is longing to go home and holds on to the memories they had of happiness on the land. This was a recurring theme throughout, the inability to move forward without returning home. Essentially the land is the place that holds their love, their dreams and their hope. It is the place that connects them to the past and provides the knowledge of the future. This book really resonated with me because it reminded me of times spent with my grandparents in Puerto Rico watching them care for their land, plant crops and make cultural comfort foods. I watch my mother until this day caring for her plants, growing herbs & food and watching the joy that it brings her. Their connection with nature and the love they have for it makes me smile. I think of all the stories they have shared with me and all the instructions they gave me about caring for nature. The land & all that comes from it was the source of joy which was the message of this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Heather Lou

    I loved the historical aspect to this memior. I loved learning about Ernestine Hayes's life from the time she was a little girl until she was an adult. I thought how she weaved in the stories her grandmother told her and the beliefs of her people were interesting and beautiful. The struggles her family and she had to go through because of being Indigenous were upsetting to read about. It's not right what her family and Indigenous people go through every day. I enjoyed how educational this book wa I loved the historical aspect to this memior. I loved learning about Ernestine Hayes's life from the time she was a little girl until she was an adult. I thought how she weaved in the stories her grandmother told her and the beliefs of her people were interesting and beautiful. The struggles her family and she had to go through because of being Indigenous were upsetting to read about. It's not right what her family and Indigenous people go through every day. I enjoyed how educational this book was and found myself researching more about the topics while I read. This book was honest, heart breaking, humble and genuine, though the writing style was a bit odd and felt disjointed at times. It was hard to keep up with at times. I really enjoyed learning about Ernestine Hayes and where she came from and how she found her way back to her home. I'll be picking other books up from this author.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Phillips

    This was my first experience with Native Alaskan literature, and it was a beautiful introduction. I loved the way Hayes describes nature and tells Tlingit stories. She touches quite a bit on colonization of Native land, as well as poverty, alcoholism, abuse, etc. It wasn’t an easy read, but it’s one that will stick with me and inspire me to look more closely at the natural world. I read this as the January 2021 pick for @erinanddanisbookclub on IG, and I’m looking forward to the rest of their se This was my first experience with Native Alaskan literature, and it was a beautiful introduction. I loved the way Hayes describes nature and tells Tlingit stories. She touches quite a bit on colonization of Native land, as well as poverty, alcoholism, abuse, etc. It wasn’t an easy read, but it’s one that will stick with me and inspire me to look more closely at the natural world. I read this as the January 2021 pick for @erinanddanisbookclub on IG, and I’m looking forward to the rest of their selections after this stunning beginning.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristina Lynn

    Whoa. This memoir hit me hard. A beautiful story about returning - returning home, returning back to the land. This is interspersed with lush, complimentary stories of natural patterns of the northwest: salmon returning home, herring spawn, the interconnectedness between nature and people of the land. Read as a part of Erin and Dani’s book club for January!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joey Carney

    Good book from a side of life that gets overlooked too much. There aren't enough Alaska Native writers, especially women, and Native writers in general, and Hayes is a good one. She tells the story from the heart, rambles and repeats some. But it's also a story about where she came from, and went back to. Good book from a side of life that gets overlooked too much. There aren't enough Alaska Native writers, especially women, and Native writers in general, and Hayes is a good one. She tells the story from the heart, rambles and repeats some. But it's also a story about where she came from, and went back to.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    This was a beautifully written memoir, though not especially uplifting or easy to read for a variety of reasons...foremost because the author's life was not an easy one; she may have prevailed over great obstacles but that was not ultimately the case for many of her People. I was somewhat confused by how the two main story lines related to each other, though it didn't bother me that it was unclear. I sort of assumed that perhaps the Tom character's story was an amalgamation of many stories about This was a beautifully written memoir, though not especially uplifting or easy to read for a variety of reasons...foremost because the author's life was not an easy one; she may have prevailed over great obstacles but that was not ultimately the case for many of her People. I was somewhat confused by how the two main story lines related to each other, though it didn't bother me that it was unclear. I sort of assumed that perhaps the Tom character's story was an amalgamation of many stories about what happened among the Auk Kwaan over a similar time span as her memoir. This part of the memoir I found to be absolutely heart breaking to the point I had to sometimes put the book down and come back to it later. That said, I *loved* the way that Tlingit (Lingit) stories were woven throughout the book and how there was a certain rhythm and pace throughout...the use of repetition and a somewhat non-linear timeline is a beautiful reflection of a culture known for its incredible spoken storytelling. Since I now live in Juneau Alaska, the setting for this memoir, and work and live on the land of the Auk Kwaan, I feel awe at the beauty of their culture, pain at what they've had to endure, and also thankfulness for being able to share this amazing land with them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    This book came straight from the heart. An important chronicle in one woman's voice that tells the sad story of the plight of Native Alaskans. Her forefathers crossed the Bering Land Bridge and lived in splendid isolation from the predatory evolving cultures in Europe. They carved a civilization in the arctic alongside the magificent animals and plants under the nortern lights. First Russia, then America dominated this land, and the original inhabitants were pushed aside first for gold, then for This book came straight from the heart. An important chronicle in one woman's voice that tells the sad story of the plight of Native Alaskans. Her forefathers crossed the Bering Land Bridge and lived in splendid isolation from the predatory evolving cultures in Europe. They carved a civilization in the arctic alongside the magificent animals and plants under the nortern lights. First Russia, then America dominated this land, and the original inhabitants were pushed aside first for gold, then for oil. The story is a familiar one, the outcome seemingly inevitable. First missionaries come in and ban their customs and ways, their cemetaries are violated in the quest for acquisistion of land. They are left poverty stricken living on scraps and numbing themselves on our ubiquitous vice of liquor. But she triumphs in the end, after a struggle to survive and witnessing many of her brothers and sisters succumb.

  26. 5 out of 5

    B Zimp

    Read as part of the Alaska Reads 2016 program. An occasionally difficult (due to topic) to read, memoir-esque book of the author's life. Ernestine Hayes describes her grandparents, parents, and ultimately her life, heart aches, choices and few triumphs. Throughout the book history repeats itself over and over again. Leaving the family with poverty, substance abuse, a connection to others, an Alaska Native heritage, and a strong survival sense. Often the individuals are only trying to survive the Read as part of the Alaska Reads 2016 program. An occasionally difficult (due to topic) to read, memoir-esque book of the author's life. Ernestine Hayes describes her grandparents, parents, and ultimately her life, heart aches, choices and few triumphs. Throughout the book history repeats itself over and over again. Leaving the family with poverty, substance abuse, a connection to others, an Alaska Native heritage, and a strong survival sense. Often the individuals are only trying to survive their own life choices. Like many other Native authors Ms Hayes successfully sprinkles the story with traditional Alaska Native animal legends.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    A gorgeous, moving memoir that feels like reading a dream. I absolutely loved the multiple voices Hayes uses to tell her stories and the honesty with which she relates her own part. At times this makes it very difficult to read, and the progression from one point in time to another can be shocking, but Hayes builds up setting and characterization so realistically. Just a fantastic take on the storytelling tradition.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Boyer-Kelly

    A great memoir about growing up in an Alaska Native community (Tlingit). The story reveals information about the Tlingit, including certain cultural practices, community events, daily tasks, understanding the landscape, Raven stories, and Hayes' experiences growing up as a "Blonde Indian." I absolutely adore the Raven stories. A quick read, but a good read that I would share with anyone that likes autobiography or is interested in Tlingit communities. A great memoir about growing up in an Alaska Native community (Tlingit). The story reveals information about the Tlingit, including certain cultural practices, community events, daily tasks, understanding the landscape, Raven stories, and Hayes' experiences growing up as a "Blonde Indian." I absolutely adore the Raven stories. A quick read, but a good read that I would share with anyone that likes autobiography or is interested in Tlingit communities.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Catriona Reynolds

    A fascinating memoir, both the content and writing style. The cycles within cycles and the rhythms of repetition are compelling. I enjoyed this book and am grateful for this perspective and insight into our recent history. The way Ernestine Hayes portrays her own tale interwoven with those of others and traditional stories is confusing at times, but ultimately solidifies into a powerful tale.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna J.

    Excellent reading. This book took place in Southeast Alaska, including families I know from the Craig, Klawock, Sitka area. Descriptions are accurate and a most moving story of this your womens life growing up.

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