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Who is my Hero?

In the 1940’s and 50’s I and my friends had adopted comic book and movie stars as our heroes. We read comic books and looked forward to Friday night movies in our village of Yakutat, Alaska. Our favorite comic characters were Superman, Batman and Robin but we enjoyed the cowboy and Indian movies---probably moreso because of the cowboy and Indian clashes. But please let me lean toward why my real hero turned out to be our Tlingit mythical creature Raven.

We would play a lot of cowboys and Indians. Most of my buddies wanted to

play the parts of Tom Mix, Gene Audrey, or Roy Rogers. The elder kids had the first choice of being one of the heroes; the rest had to be Indians.  but I always volunteered to be an Indian anyway. I never knew why but to me there was something special I liked about Indians. The Lone Ranger was impressive because he had Tonto.

In real life, Yep, believe it or not, I really didn’t know the difference between the whites and Indians, accept that I always took note that in the movies the Indians always lost in the final battles and the heroes won the girls heart and rode his horse into the sunset.

Then one day I found out that I was actually one. An Indian that is---

When I was six years old my father moved us from Yakutat, our ancestral home, to the capital city of Juneau, Alaska to work for a construction company. This move had taken my brother and I from the influence of our grandmother who spent considerable time teaching us our ancestral language and told us stories about the life and creations of Raven. Here is when Raven’s became my real hero.

In Juneau, there were two schools---one for the so-called whites, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Indians. We lived in a neighborhood that included mostly non-natives.

Something I never saw, due to the protective influence of our parents, was the evidence of discrimination where we were living; but in the main segment of Juneau there were signs posted in the businesses that read “No Dogs or Natives Allowed.” In the Alaska Native Brotherhood there were strong leaders who were adamant about having one school for all.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood was formed by Native leaders in 1912 for fighting against discrimination.  The leaders in Juneau wanted the two schools to be integrated.  To start this process, they singled out certain families to register their children in the Territorial school. My parents accepted the challenge to enroll me. On the first day of school I was the only one from our neighborhood who showed up.

Being a shy individual I spent the morning by myself. During lunch a girl made friends with me and took the initiative to make me feel welcome. We were playing jumping jacks when another girl came to us.

“Amy,” she said.  “Do you play with Indians?”

Amy jumped up and started jumping up and down screaming, “He’s not an Indian!  He’s my friend!”

Embarrassed, the girl left and never bothered us again. 

When I returned home I asked my mother what an Indian was.

“Who called you an Indian?” she blurted out. I told her the story.  She said that Amy was, indeed, a true friend. Then she sat me down and told me an important story about the realities of life I would face the rest of my life; human relationship.

This experience helped me realize the importance of my elders telling stories about Raven and Tlingit culture. So, my first real hero became the Tlingit mythical bird Raven.

Since then I often returned to the lifelong task of learning what I can about my Native history and culture. While I realized that I could never write about Roy Rogers, or Tom Mix and Gene Audrey, or even Crazy Horse or Geronimo as my heroes, today I know I could write a little about Raven.

And I did-- in my novel When Raven Cries.




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