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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Indigenous Education Worldwide

Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Cheryl Jerabek

NAME OF BOOK: Goodbye, My Island
AUTHOR: Jean Rogers

The author lives in Juneau but it is unclear how much time she has spent in Alaska. The author has received an Honored Author citation from the Alaska State Reading Association. The illustrator lived in Alaska since 1950 and is a well-known artist who has received various honors. She taught in King Island 1951-1952 and that is the basis for this story. All illustrations are in Rie Munoz's distinctive style.

The book is a fictional account of a group of King Islander's last year on King Island when the school, church and store were still operating. The main characters are the Atoolik family which includes 12 year old Esther, her older brother Lewis, and their parents. Dixon, who is a nephew of the teachers, also spends the year on the island and his many questions provides the reader with information on what life is like on King Island. Other families and the island priest are also featured.

The two main children in the book, Lewis and Esther speak the most English in the village. Their father learned it when he was young and had to stay in the hospital. He tells them that it is not enough just to speak Eskimo, that they need to learn English and to attend school and learn all they could because the old Eskimo ways were leaving.

The story begins in the fall when the King Island residents are getting ready to move from Nome, where they have spent the summer, back to King Island.

Esther's friends try to convince her to stay in Nome and talk about how good it is to go to school in Nome vs King Island, that there is more to do, plus hot lunches, movies, girl scouts, etc. They also make references to the fact that people from St. Lawrence Island and Shismaref don't like the King Islanders. A 'gussak' girlfriend says it's silly that they are all Eskimos and should get along. Shismaref kids say that the King Islanders are crazy to live on a big empty rock rather than Nome where their family can make a good living selling ivory to the tourists. The girls also talked about another character, Wooko and his family. Wooko stayed drunk all the time and beat his wife while in Nome, so they were going back to King Island for the winter.

The author says that the King Islanders always had moved to Nome for the summer at the end of June in their Oomiaks and then at the end of summer they travel back via the North Star ship. When they reach King Island the North Star stops and the oomiaks are lowered filled with people, heating oil and provisions for the winter. They are greeted by their dogs who have been left alone on the island all summer where they survived by catching birds and eating eggs.

Everyone, including the children are excited about going home to King Island. The whole village works together to haul supplies up to their houses, the church and school.When they are done, a party is held at the school. The priest welcomed everyone and a discussion was held about the BIA school and store closing at the end of the year.

We learn about life on King Island through a journal that 12-year old Esther keeps and through questions asked by Dixon, the visiting nephew of the teachers. We are taught about the weather, storms, shore and pack ice, ice fishing, seal hunting, and putting meat away in the ice cave. We learn about houses that have doors that open half way on top, that people sit on floor, cook on colman stoves, and use furs and blankets along racks on the wall for sleeping. Clothing is also described as well as Eskimo dancing.

There is also a community 'club house' with a tunnel and entrance through the floor. This is a meeting place where community people tan skins and carve ivory, and have Eskimo dancing. Community celebrations are also held at the school. Christmas is celebrated with a church service and feast at the school including traditional foods such as pickled walrus flipper, seal liver, beluga stew, and ice cream made with blueberries, reindeer fat (from Nome), seal oil, and fish eggs. The Christmas celebration also included Tug of war-man's game done with a rope around the neck, and ear pulling contest, thumb wrestle, finger pull, and a tug of war with a pole being held with one hand.

The book also gives us a brief view of subsistence activities including seal hunting and walrus hunting at edge of ice, which requires patience and endurance. In the Spring, families also gather eggs and snare birds with hand thrown nets.

The book also explains the annual arrival of Navy ice breaker "Burton Island" which brings a doctor and dentist for everyone on the island to see. Everyone gets a cold after the ship's visit. They also get a cold after a mail drop. This gives the teachers the opportunity to teach about germs. There was also a description of an old man who said his teeth were worn down from chewing tough blubber and frozen walrus, and many others who had or had had TB.

The book provides the reader with a good sense of how the King Island community worked and celebrated together. The community also came together to deal with sickness and death. Traditional burial, using stones, was compared to the more modern use of wooden caskets covered with tar paper.

The book could have included more Inupiat language. It refers to "Eskimo" as the language and uses Oomiak, Eskultea (Eskimo word for teacher), mukluk and muktuk. It does include a brief glossary at the beginning.

The book could be used for upper middle school through junior high school level. The positive aspects of this book include a good overview of subsistence activities and a very good depiction of how the village works together as a community. Children love living on King Island, and there is a positive feeling of life there. However there is a lot of emphasis on what they need to learn from western society to be successful. The book could have included more on how the family functioned, the intergenerational relationships, and the spiritual relationship with the land and animals. Nome is also depicted as having a lot more to offer for entertainment and education.

The book ends with the King Islanders traveling back to Nome, which is 90 miles away, in big oomiaks. The trip took all day. Everyone is sad, as they know most of the people will not return to King Island next winter.

The book's last chapter "afterward" gives some interesting historical information. The King Island BIA school was closed in 1964. For a few years after that the King Islanders did return to the island in the winter, but gradually the abandoned WWII huts in Nome where they lived in the summer became their permanent home. In 10 years they became miserable slums with a high incidence of TB. There were also few jobs. In 1974 the area flooded, the shacks were demolished, and then the BIA built new houses on the east side of town. Some people moved to Anchorage. Some remaining inhabitants established a fishing camp at Cape Woolley. The author said that today ivory carving is a main source of income, and people still go back to King Island for walrus and seal hunting and also herd reindeer in Nome. The author also mentioned the 1971 ANSCA and the formation of King Island Village Corporation. She also states that TV has created new problems and the youth don't want to learn old ways. In 1982 the Elders revived the wolf dance, which was the first performance in 50 years. Video tapes of the dance etc help keep the history and customs of King Island alive. (I found the afterward section of the book somewhat paternalistic and dispiriting. More could have been included on how the King Islanders continue to be proud of their roots and how they have built on their past.)

I also talked to Yayuk (Bernadette Alvanna Stimpfle). I asked about the lawsuits involving the King Island name. She said that the book King Island Christmas is the one that has caused problems because a New York Company turned it into an opera and used the title King Island Records. It's been awhile since she's read Goodbye My Island, but she said that the names are made up, and she felt that they should have at least used the real King Islanders for information. The book is out of Rie Munoz's memory when she taught there in the 1950's.

In summary I would say that if this book is historically and culturally correct it could be a good source of how life was on King Island. But the author should have used King Islanders for the information and as reviewers of the book. Although we get a good sense of community and feel that the people will be sorry to leave their island, the book needs more indigenous information rather than being told from a western point of view. There seems to be too much emphasis on learning the western ways and the positive points about living in Nome. The generic word "Eskimo" is also used rather than Inupiat.

The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.

The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.






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Last modified August 14, 2006