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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Cheryl Jerabek

NAME OF BOOK: The Way of Our People
AUTHOR: Arnold Griese
ILLUSTRATOR: Glo Coalson (cover illustration)
)? No
WHAT IS THE SETTING OF THE BOOK (TIME AND PLACE)? 1838, Village of Anvik, Alaska

The author, Arnold Griese, is currently a professor of children's literature at UAF.The author taught for 'several years' in a one room school in Tanana and traveled by plane to other villages where he heard tales of ancient days.

The main character is a thirteen year old Athabascan boy, Kano. The story takes place in and around Anvik on the Yukon river in 1838. The story begins with Kano being honored in the Kashim because he has gotten his first moose. He is expected to become a great hunter. But Kano is afraid of the Nakani, the spirit of the forest. When Kano's father finds out about his son's fear, he is angry and sad and says in the fall Kano must go out and hunt caribou by himself and if he will not, he would have to leave the village because of the shame he would bring to his family and village.

Kano decides to go live with an Elder, the Old One, to help him deal with his fear. The Old One was also once banished for being afraid. People also fear the bear, as it is the only animal that tries to kill men. The book calls the bear a devil animal that is hunted only in the winter in its den. Another fear that Kano has to deal with is the fear of getting lost when his brain goes empty and he becomes like a child.

Kano deals with his fear and joins his family at summer camp. When he goes out caribou hunting all goes well until he gets lost, then the fear returns. His father asked if he wanted to go and live with the white traders at St. Michael. Kano knew it would bring less shame and he agreed to go.

Kano then meets a Russian traveler who is giving the small pox vaccine. Kano agrees to be vaccinated but the Anvik elders do not give their approval for the vaccine to be given to their people. When small pox starts to spread, Kano travels by dog team to a neighboring village to bring back the Russian but the Russian says that Kano can give the vaccine. Kano convinces his sister and grandmother to talk to the women about the vaccine and the elders are also finally convinced.

If the book is accurate for the time period, it does provide a good description of what life was like in the Anvik area in the late 1830's. There are good descriptions of subsistence activities in spring, summer and winter. The relationship of Kano to his family also provides good information on how boys were taught to be good hunters and the values of sharing and generosity. The function of the village elders and life in the Kashim was also very interesting. There is also good historical information regarding trading at St. Michael and the effects of small pox and Russian contact.Although the book does touch on the spirituality of the people, it does seem to oversimplify the relationship to the bear, calling the animal a devil animal. And also oversimplifies the representation of the Nakani. According to the book Make Prayers to the Raven, the Koyukon Athabascan believe that the bear is fearless, but it is highly respected and has a very strong spirit with many taboos associated with its hunting and consumption. Likewise, the Koyukon Athabascan believe in the woodsman. It is called nuhu'anh, nik'inla'eena, nik'il'eena, which is very close to the Nakani mentioned in this book. The Koyukon Woodsman is always there, almost never seen, often responsible for missing things, sneaks here and there, and children are warned they may be taken.

This book would work well with middle and junior high school students to give them an idea of what life in Anvik was like at time of western contact. Added discussion would be necessary especially regarding spirituality and the relationship with nature. The book discussion could lead to interesting reflection on first contact, small pox, the devastation that occurred, and how traditional lifestyles have adapted and changed.

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