BY KAYLYN HASLUND
For the UAS Whalesong
One Campus One Book is currently celebrating our very own Professor Ernestine Hayes’ Alaskan Memoir: Blonde Indian and on November 6th she gave a talk about it titled An Animate World. The event started with Jonas Lamb introducing her and the open dialogue she has with her students and how that writing itself is a dialogue. He also played a hand in getting her book chosen, finding it an appropriate choice. She is being celebrated as not just an Alaskan author but also a woman working on preserving her culture in ways that she can with her work.
Ernestine approached the stage with humble words and spoke clearly of the title of her speech, “An Animate World,” and how it could be confused with an animated world. But she meant an animate world, a world where everything is alive, or rather that it is a life possessing world. Because the world is alive and breathing and we have to interact with it to learn about ourselves and our own lives.
She then began with her two simple truths that she always begins with, the prehistory is not history and that because of Euro-centric thinking we’re unable to recognize that each place has a history pre-contact. Her second truth is that of Alaska Natives and that had there been no contact the Native people would still be living in the modern world. She presented that many people believe otherwise and that some believe contact is the only way to achieve a certain modernity. That with Euro-centric thought processes leads many to believe that only European influence will allow for progress. She asked that we understand what she meant about this and that we come at her book with an open mind about how we can possibly work to dissolve a Euro-centric way of understanding and to create a more universal understanding.
As she moved onto her book she began by reading sections of it, the beginning and the end, and with it came many heavy handed questions as well as an explaining what “I am part of the song,” particularly means. It is a human song that she explores and finds that everyone is singing a different tune than she may be singing. Through her words the audience could see the importance of place as well as identity for Ernestine as well as many others, that without a place one can lose themselves in turn. She asked for a look into the decolonization of both the land and the mind, but seemed to understand it wasn’t something could just change after night. As part of the world’s song she was able to establish a sense of place in Alaska. Through working together, though, perhaps we could all begin singing the same song.
She was met with a standing ovation for her words from community members, fellow faculty, and students. We were celebrating an outstanding woman who has taken strides to achieve so much for her culture and community.
She closed her reading section and the opened the floor for questions, one of which was how she came to the thought of a new song. Ernestine answered that she realized that there was a song in the world and that there has to be a call to change the song people are singing. She also stated that the new generation has already begun singing a new song and that you have to raise that very generation to believe in changing for the better.
Ernestine shared with the crowd that her next book would be out in Fall 2016, titled ‘The Dao of Raven,’ another Alaskan Native memoir that would draw influence from the story of Raven. We can only expect another outstanding tale of both herself and how she begins to interpret her place in both the world and the story of Raven.