Forum Magazine, Spring 2017

Page 1


S P R I N G 2 0 17

James Temte’s abstract questions Memoir by Ernestine Hayes

Continuous : in their own words 100Stone and HUMAN :ties


Stories of Human Experience


ith the election of a new president and what seems to be a new direction for our country, we are faced with some age-old questions: What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be Alaskan? What do freedom and democracy look like? How do we decide what is true and what is false? The humanities are central to finding our way through these important questions. At their core, the humanities are stories. Philosophy, history, religion, and art are stories told in many forms. They are the stories of our lives; the stories of our past and present; the stories of our human experience. The work of the humanities today is essential because it helps us remember our past and connects us across our vast differences. The humanities provide us with the tools we need to skillfully evaluate, understand, and navigate our complex world. At the Alaska Humanities Forum we use the humanities to connect people and strengthen communities. In our youth and education programs, we use the humanities to grow cultural connection and resilience in our youth, and to ensure they are graduating from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce. In our leadership programs, we use the humanities to bring diverse leaders together from many sectors to discuss and work on complex community, economic, and political challenges. In our public programs, we use the humanities to host conversations ranging from veterans returning from war to Alaska Native language revitalization to the fiscal crisis to sex trafficking in Alaska. And finally, through our grants program, we have invested millions of dollars over the last 40 years in Alaska artists, historians, filmmakers, and community conveners all wanting to tell their stories. All of this work helps us as Alaskans learn from each other, meet challenges, and find common ground. What does it mean to be American? I think it means that together we face these difficult questions head on, not satisfied with simple answers, but curious and reveling in our diverse perspectives and experiences. It means that we continue the conversation, listen to each other, and find those areas where we can work together. I believe the humanities are essential in making this happen. In closing I want to thank you for your support. All of the important work of the Alaska Humanities Forum is only possible because of you. I encourage you continue to support the humanities, both on a national level by advocating for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and at a local level by supporting the Alaska Humanities Forum. Enjoy this issue of the FORUM magazine; then please take a moment to visit our website at to learn more.

161 East First Avenue, Door 15 Anchorage, Alaska 99501 (907) 272-5341 | BOARD OF DIRECTORS Catkin Kilcher Burton, Chair, Anchorage Elizabeth Qaulluq Cravalho, Vice Chair, Kotzebue Christa Bruce, Secretary, Ketchikan Clayton W. Bourne, Treasurer, Anchorage Michael Chmielewski, Member-at-Large, Palmer Joan Braddock, Ph.D., Past Chair, Fairbanks Bruce Botelho, Douglas Jeane Breinig, Ph.D., Anchorage Lenora Lolly Carpluk, Fairbanks Renée Duncan, Soldotna Anne Hanley, Fairbanks Ernestine Hayes, Juneau Britteny Howell, Anchorage

What does it mean to

Dave Kiffer, Ketchikan

be American? I think

Chellie Skoog, Chugiak

it means that together

Pauline Morris, Kwethluk Kurt Wong, Anchorage


we face these difficult

Kameron Perez-Verdia, President & CEO

questions head on...

Christina Barber, Curator of Innovation and Contemporary Culture

— Kameron Perez-Verdia President & CEO



T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

Ted Leonard, Chief Financial Officer

Carmen Davis, Director of Education and Youth Programs Kitty Farnham, Director of Leadership Programs Veldee Hall, Special Projects and Grants Manager Nancy Hemsath, Operations Manager and Board Liaison Jennifer Howell, Leadership Programs Coordinator Jann Mylet, Director of Development and Communications Nathanael O’Connor, Take Wing Alaska Manager Naaqtuuq Robertson, Take Wing Alaska Coordinator Rayette Sterling, Leadership Program Manager Kirstie Lorelei Willean, Education Programs Coordinator Megan Zlatos, Director of Special Projects and Grants

 David Holthouse Art Director
 Dean Potter Copy Editor
 Nancy Hemsath Contributors Lillian Maassen, Michael Conti, Deb McKinney, Edward Yang, Tim Troll, Heather Lende, Aurora Ford, Jenny Irene Miller, Ernestine Hayes, Brendan Joel Kelley

S P R I N G 2 0 17

Photo by Michael Conti


Sarah Davies tells the story behind her sculpture project, 100Stone, and how it launched a new Forum initiative, HUMAN:ties. See page 10

4 Warrior of Beauty James Temte’s abstract paintings ask daring questions with exquisite technique

10 The Weight of 100 Stone Forum partner Sarah Davies tells the story behind her art project that launched a new grant initiative

16 FROM THE ARCHIVES Remembering Agayuliyararput Twenty-one years ago the Alaska Humanities Forum helped bring 40 Yup’ik masks back home

20 DONOR PROFILE Jonathon Lack “The Alaska Humanities Forum is really about what it means to be an Alaskan...”

22 People and Stories Honoring Distinguished Service to the Humanities at the 2017 Governor’s Awards

24 IN MEMORIAM A Gentleman and Scholar Remembering military historian and Forum board member John Cloe. Obituary by Heather Lende

26 GR ANT REPORT Spirited The stories of five individuals featured in Jenny Irene Miller’s groundbreaking photography series Continuous, in their own words

34 Summer Days in Juneau

An excerpt from The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes

Forum is a publication of the Alaska Humanities Forum, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the purpose of increasing public understanding of and participation in the humanities. The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the editorial staff, the Alaska Humanities Forum, or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Subscriptions may be obtained by contributing to the Alaska Humanities Forum or by contacting the Forum. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. ©2017.

38 DUT Y BOUND War Stories Writer and combat veteran Brian Castner on war and the life that follows.

42 PROGR AM NOTES Leadership Anchorage Community Projects And a Second Friday update

43 AF TER IMAGE “Andrew Miller, 2016” A closing portrait by Forum grantee Jenny Irene Miller

To keep receiving Forum magazine, please see page 19.

On the cover: Detail of James Temte’s painting “Freedom.” See page 4. Photo by Michael Conti

James Temte hangs a painting for his Second Friday show at the Alaska Humanities Forum offices in December. Photo by Michael Conti


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19


it starts with a color pallet, and an idea.

James Temte paints what he feels more than what he sees, working in thoughts and impressions rather than imitation. His abstract pieces, worked on an enormous scale and in bright, striking color blocks, dare the viewer to stop and take a closer look. Temte’s straight lines and layers of geometric patterning are intentionally reminiscent of Plains Indian art. But they would not look out of place in early Cubist pieces from Paris, or in modernday graffiti murals in Berlin. They take the eye on a tour, suggesting just enough of forests, mountains, and log cabins to allow exquisite images to take shape in the viewer’s mind. “I love abstract because it asks questions; it doesn’t tell you,” says Temte. “I really hate being told what to do, and I don’t want to tell other people what to do. I want to ask them questions.” And if his prolific work is any indication, Temte has a lot of questions to ask. Over the last year and a half, Anchorage has enjoyed a veritable explosion of Temte’s jaw-dropping work in his signature street art style. Last December, he created a 2,000-square-foot mural in the atrium of the Anchorage Museum. Two weeks earlier, the Alaska Humanities Forum hosted the opening and a month-long showing of his exhibit “Finding Na-Måhta’sóoma (My Shadow),” a vivid collection of larger-than-life abstract paintings that explore themes of cultural heritage, personal identity, and ancestral pride and guilt in a conflicted world. The project began a year ago, when Temte stumbled upon an exhibit of Plains Indian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The light-eyed son of a Northern Cheyenne mother and a Norwegian father, Temte had always felt somewhat out of place, an ethnic minority in the Wyoming town where he grew up, but “the white kid” on the reservation. He had never felt fully able to relate to either side of his heritage. But there, in the Met, he experienced an epiphany. “Growing up, you learn about history and Native American tribes, and often you think of it as kind of dirty, and a rough, hard life, and you think of how they were warriors and they were brutal,” Temte reflects. “But when I saw the art, a light went on and I realized: no, [the Cheyenne] were also very elegant, and they cared about design, and they cared about surrounding themselves with things that were beautiful.” They were, in short, people to whom Temte could deeply relate.

James Temte’s abstract paintings ask daring questions with exquisite technique By Lillian Maassen

Temte left New York and threw himself into a journey of selfdiscovery, traveling through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana in a feverish effort to find out as much as he could about his Cheyenne heritage. He toured museums, read books, and looked at photographs, spoke to curators and relatives and life-long reservation residents. To his dismay, he discovered that there is very A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


detail of “Blood on My Hands.” Photo by James Temte

far left :

left : James

Temte at the Alaska Humanities Forum.

below and opposite :

details of

“Sacred Mountain.” Three photos by Michael Conti

Temte threw himself into a journey of self-discovery, traveling through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana in a feverish effort to find out as much as he could about his Cheyenne heritage.


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

little Cheyenne artwork left today, because 19th century US military groups were in the habit of punctuating their conflicts with the Cheyenne by gathering together their beadwork and burning it. That artwork is lost to history now, along with the lives of countless men, women, and children. “They all fought out of desperation,” says Temte. “It’s just a tragic piece of history, on both sides of the battle for the West. I felt overwhelmed with being guilty. How one small conflict can end in huge battles where people are being mutilated, and the dehumanization of the other side.” Out of this turmoil arose Temte’s three-dimensional piece “Blood on My Hands,” recently on display at the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Humanities Forum. The “confession piece,” as he calls it, explores the bloody duality of the Native American/white settler struggle, embodied in Temte’s own biracialism. One side of the piece depicts his Native American side, while the other depicts his white side, so that the viewer is forced to physically walk around the piece to see both sides. This was an intentional move on Temte’s part, an effort to illustrate how conflict can be avoided if we just make a little effort to see things from the other person’s point of view. “We need to own our history, for better or worse,” he told a rapt audience at the Alaska Humanities Forum opening reception for “Finding Na-Måhta’sóoma (My Shadow)” last December. “We need to recognize the guilt on our own hands—the blood on our hands—and then we can actually sit down at the table, honestly, and try and move forward.”

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


above :

“Arrow Throw” is Temte’s interpretation of an old photo of the same title (opposite) depicting a group of Cheyenne men playing a game of throwing arrows. Photo by Michael Conti; Historic Photo: Richard Throssel Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

Temte engaged in a dialogue with attendees of the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Second Friday event in December. Photo by Michael Conti

Other pieces celebrate the knowledge Temte has gained about the beautiful parts of Cheyenne history. “Sacred Mountain” is resplendent in yellows, whites and turquoises, easy on the eyes but chock-full of traditional Cheyenne symbolism. A step pattern zigzags through the image, representing Novavose, the Sacred Mountain at whose heart the Creator lives. In the upper right-hand corner, Thunderbird, like a great eagle, watches over the holy domain. “James’ style is quick and fresh,” says Anchorage Museum director Julie Decker. “It’s expressionist without being overthought, inviting without being too precious.” Similarly, “Arrow Throw” tells a story of Cheyenne daily life. Temte painted from his

impressions of an old photograph by the same title, depicting a group of Cheyenne men playing a game of throwing arrows. Seeing the men that way, relaxed and at play, made them real for Temte in a way that no battle account could. Mint greens and earth browns, divided into quads as though viewed through a window, evoke the peacefulness of that day long ago, when brothers and fathers and sons threw arrows not in war, but in fun. “One thing I really respect about James is how he uses his artwork to engage the community and inform the public,” says Christina Barber, Curator of Innovation and Contemporary Culture for the Alaska Humanities Forum. “He talks about the research he did, and how so much Cheyenne artwork was de-

stroyed. In many ways, he’s adding to that lost art. He’s making these objects and they are in dialogue with those lost pieces.” Dialogue seems an almost inevitable result of Temte’s work. He tackles the hard questions unflinchingly, telling his story and inviting others to explore their own. The humility of his work, his ability to find the ugliness and the beauty in his heritage and in himself, and to celebrate both equally, opens his work to a universal human conversation. As for Temte, he plans to be starting conversations in Anchorage for a long time. “One thing I felt when I was reading about the Cheyenne: we were fierce. And that is a part of me. And I can be fierce for things that are good, and have a voice, and stand up for things that need to be stood up for. I think that’s powerful, and it’s empowering to think that you’re part of this lineage of warriors and fighters, and they cared. I think that is something I’ll carry with me.” Lillian Maassen interviewed Homer writer Wendy Erd for the Fall 2016 issue of Forum. This is her first feature article for the magazine. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

The Weight

Photo by Edward Yang

Forum partner Sarah Davies tells the story behind her art project that launched a new grant initiative By Deb McKinney


ince being left to fend for themselves at Point Woronzoff more than a year ago, the haunting human figures of the 100Stone Project have witnessed love and indignity and all things between. Created to raise compassion for those struggling with depression and other mental health issues, the sculptures moved some to tears and others to random acts of unkindness. Visitors left offerings tucked in their arms and at their feet, while vandals defaced, smashed, and decapitated them. But even the dark side of the response spectrum contributed to the project’s message by representing how fragile and vulnerable humans can be. The figures were cast from Alaskans bearing the weight of mental health struggles, addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, and other vulnerabilities—their own or those of people they love. The castings were then sculpted into various expressions of despair: shoulders slumped, on their knees, staring into the abyss. We are here living among you, they said. See us. Understand us.

of 100 Stone

“There was always this really pregnant moment when someone would climb out of their cast, when they would see themselves for the first time in a physical sense, a real thing they could touch, not just a mirror image, not just a reflection,” project creator Sarah Davies said. “In that moment I could almost see their story, their spirit, climbing in and occupying that space they had just vacated. “Every time they were quieted. And often they would cry. It was just so beautiful.” The name behind the project refers to a 14-pound unit of weight, 100 stone being equal to a full-grown bull. That’s the load those living in a dark internal world carry upon their shoulders, a weight Davies knows all too well. Although the figures were removed from the Cook Inlet shoreline in April 2016, their story is not done. The “stones” that survived the winter and the following summer in Davies’ backyard—half of the original 85—have been restored and are on a new mission. In a partnership between Davies and the Alaska Humanities Forum, they’re helping raise funds to support other place-based, storytelling projects designed to build compassion and comSarah Davies. Photo by Charles Tice munity. Along with donations and the sale of hoodies, amulets, and prints, the 100Stone survivors are being sold and sponsored, bound for personal gardens and public spaces to raise money for a new grant fund called human:ties. To launch human:ties, the surviving stones got a temporary new home, holding vigil across the lawns, in the gardens, and among the trees in front of Grant Hall and the Carr Gottstein Building at Alaska Pacific University. By late February, seven had been sold and three sponsored for display in public places yet to be determined; one by art photographer Joanne Teasdale, the other two by money raised through the sale of the hoodies and other items. What began three years ago as a public art installation has evolved into an advocacy movement. Nearly 600 people contributed to the 100Stone Project in ways big and small,

“I could almost see their story, their spirit, climbing in and occupying that space they had just vacated.”


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

from Homer to Fairbanks, Bethel to Sitka, and numerous points between. “Every single contribution was a gift,” Davies said. “And all it took was me saying, ‘Umm, I think I need to show you where I’ve been living.’” In January 2014, when she first submitted proposals outlining her 100Stone vision, she was still questioning whether she’d feel comfortable telling her own story, whether she’d even have to. “The very first response I got was a firm, sort of aggressive, ‘What is it that you think you know about mental illness?’ And I thought, ‘Well, there’s my answer.’”

Born in a Storm

Her story begins at The Farm, a back-tothe-land commune founded in the early ‘70s in the heart of Tennessee, where she was born in a tent during a thunder and lightning storm. “It might explain how alive I feel when I smell a storm in the air, the ozone. It’s one of my favorite scents...” Her parents didn’t stay at the commune long, and split up when she was three. She spent several weeks each summer living with her father, who saw himself as a mountain man and dressed in buckskins. He once worked as a dogcatcher until he was fired for killing a dog, she says. The abuse he heaped upon her goes back as far as she can remember: physical, psychological, and sexual. The first time she wanted to die she was six, when her father held her head under water in the bathtub. “He would do it in the pool, he would do it in the bath. He was sadistic. It wasn’t like a maniacal laugh, but he would laugh. “Actually, the worst came when I was being punished, when I’d ask why. I didn’t understand why he was doing what he was doing. I’d ask why, and that would be it, that would trigger him.” At eight, she told her mother she didn’t want to visit her father in Ohio anymore. At ten, the truth came out, and her mother reported him to law enforcement. Davies remembers being terrified on the witness stand. “I was ten years old, speaking as a witness, speaking about really humiliating things… describing to perfect strangers the characteristics of my father’s penis. I didn’t understand these kinds of things.” She’s not sure why, but the case fell apart, and her father walked. She was 18 the last time she spoke to him, hoping he would acknowledge the damage he’d done. “What I did to you wasn’t that bad,” he told her.

above and previous pages :

Figures of the 100Stone Project installed on the campus of Alaska Pacific University. Photo by Edward Yang

“This is the last time you’re going to hear my voice,” she told him. He died in 2011. She didn’t find out until nearly half a year later, his obituary written as though she didn’t exist. With that, another stone was added to the heap. For most of her life she felt like an “other,” living in an alternate universe.. Then came a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, a disorder that includes musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep, memory, and mood problems. All of this was the result of childhood trauma. So said the doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists she turned to for help. She was holding onto the trauma deep within her bones. “There were a lot of implicit, and sometimes explicit, messages that would tell me this was my fault, a character defect,” Davies said. “‘If you really wanted to get better you would either do more about it or you’d be more effective. It’s you not being able to get over it.’” During acute bouts of depression, when she needed patience and compassion the most, people would retreat. Thoughts of suicide, and her actual attempts, were about wanting the pain and isolation to stop.

She spent decades blaming herself for being unable to move beyond the abuse. Then a test result came back that changed everything.

Insidious Whispers

Davies teaches special education science at Dimond High School in Anchorage, and although she’d been vigilant in maintaining a firewall between her interior and professional worlds, that’s where her last acute episode happened, at work. School had just gotten out that October day in 2013 when the unbearable weight of 100 stone crash-landed upon her shoulders “Some people feel as if something is directly threatening them, but for me the product of my panic is the urgency to die. And I had that urgency just 15 minutes after the last bell.” She had the presence of mind to call her counselor, but her call for help went straight to voicemail. Davies figured her therapist was in session, that it would be another 40 minutes until the she could talk. “I knew I couldn’t drive, so I covered all my windows and locked the door, turned off all A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


the lights, and crawled under my desk. I knew I needed to occupy my brain; I couldn’t listen to my thoughts because they were just so awful.” You can’t live like this; maybe it’s time to go… She had to drown out those insidious whispers. So in the dark beneath her desk, she watched “The Walking Dead” on her cell phone. “I thought, what could be more distracting than zombies?” She can laugh now about resorting to “zombie porn,” but that episode more than three years ago was a close call. “It’s almost a blessing that I was at school, that I was not at home. I’m afraid if I was at home there would not have been that time and space between me and the other side.” Her counselor came up with a strategy to get her through the weekend, then set up an appointment with a doctor who turned everything Davies thought she knew about her illness on its head. She credits Dr. Michael Fischer, who practiced integrative medicine at Alaska Family Wellness Center, with saving her life. “He walked into my world and sat with me, and it was a really dark world at that moment. But he wasn’t afraid, and he said, ‘Tell

“There were a lot of implicit messages telling me, ‘It’s you not being able to get over it.’” me what you see, and what you have seen.’ He sat with me for two hours, and when I went in the next day, he sat with me for two more.” Fischer has since retired, but as Davies explains it, he discovered a simple genetic trait, an enzyme deficiency, called the mthfr mutation, which sounds like one of those crass vanity license plate abbreviations. Soon after replacing the enzyme, the physical symptoms were all but gone, and her depression and anxiety are now a shadow of what they used to be. Before, she was chronically ill and episodically well. Now, she’s chronically well and episodically ill. “I spent decades blaming all of my physical symptoms and emotional symptoms and behavioral symptoms on trauma,” she said. “When I started feeling better I got angry, really, really angry, about all I had lost because I had internalized the message that it was a matter of will. “I understand things differently now, now that I’ve gone much further down the path to health in general. Those kinds of events are the same as eating a poisonous mushroom. You have a chemical event in your body that has behavioral products. But I thought it was a character flaw, that it was my fault I couldn’t control my thoughts. “It has completely changed my life, and so has the project. I could never have made 100Stone happen if it wasn’t for that panic event.”

Hope and Resilience

Davies doesn’t think of herself as an artist. “I make some things sometimes,” is how she puts it. In addition to a master’s in science education, she has a degree in Jewelry Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but no fine arts training beyond a couple of semesters. She was a jeweler in


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

New York City’s Diamond District a few years before switching to social service nonprofits, then teaching high school biology. By 2010, she’d had her fill of the big city grind. She took a seasonal park service job in McCarthy, and settled in Anchorage that fall. After attending the wearable art show, Object Runway, she decided to enter the following year, and won with her piece, “Beneath Blackburn,” created out of landfill finds from the long-gone settlement of Blackburn near McCarthy. Two years later she won firstplace again with a two-piece, raven-themed garment made of old desk calendars, porch screen, cow parsnip, packing paper, wallpaper and rabbit fur. Still, she didn’t call herself as an artist. At first, the idea for the 100Stone installation came to her out of anger and resentment, she admits. But over time, the project evolved and matured into one about understanding, hope and resilience. With a core group of collaborators—John Coyne, Catherine Shenk, Ed Mighell, Brian Hutton and Lee Holmes—she reached out to some of Alaska’s most vulnerable people mainly through the art and service provider communities. Legs and torsos were cast from those living beneath the burden of mental

human:ties The sun sets over figures of the 100Stone Project at Alaska Pacific University. Photo by Edward Yang

health issues. Arms and heads were cast from mannequins, added to the bodies and positioned by guest sculptors, who took clues from the body castings to create individual poses. Facial masks were cast from others, and then added to the heads. So each stone is a melding of two people, shaped by the laying of many hands. In late November 2015, a small army of volunteers led by Anthony Ladd and other members of Ironworkers 751, and workers from JD Steel, transported the plaster and concrete figures, some weighing upwards of 300 pounds, down the bluff at Point Woronzoff. They wrestled them into position atop rebar pounded into the ground. It was a haunting scene, 85 concrete-gray, stylized figures sinking into the mud, walking into the icy inlet waters, kneeling, praying. Days later, most of the sculptures were toppled by a raging storm with unseasonal high temperatures that melted the icy substrate. More volunteers came to the rescue, moving the installation to higher ground in time for its Dec. 5, 2015 opening. Reactions were all over the map. “Why would you make something so dark?” “Why would you make something so depressing?” “When are they going to be gone?”

So there was that, those inconvenienced by the truth. We are here living among you. See us. Understand us. And there was heartbreaking vandalism. But to others, the installation was a place for reflection, a place to pay tribute to those who didn’t make it, a place to initiate difficult conversations. Youth and adult services groups visited regularly to explore the stones, and ultimately themselves, as Davies puts it. The stories within the stones seemed to speak to certain people. Now and then, someone would bond with a particular figure, hug it, talk to it, and leave notes.These are among the reactions Davies witnessed as she visited the installation several times a week last winter. “So this really amazing, incredible thing happened. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received. And here I am, just flooded with gratitude and I don’t know what to do to reconcile this psychic debt that I feel. I went to a few different organizations, the Humanities Forum being the best fit, and said, ‘I think I can pay this opportunity forward. I want to try to do that.’”

Investing in creative advocacy in Alaska. HUMAN:ties is a new

partnership between the Alaska Humanities Forum and the 100Stone Project designed to grant other Alaskan artists an opportunity to activate their communities akin to 100Stone. It will fund place-based projects that explore the influence of human connection on our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. HUMAN:ties is intended to combat isolation and promote a deeper understanding of self and community. For more information visit or

Alaskan journalist Deb McKinney is a frequent contributor to Forum. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



Remembering Agayuliyararput Twenty-one years ago, in a groundbreaking event, the Alaska Humanities Forum helped bring 40 Yup’ik masks back home from museums around the world By Tim Troll

“When the Eskimo of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers become so sophisticated by contact with white men that mask festivals fall into disuse it will be but a short time until all the wealth and mythological fancy connected with them will become a sealed book.” —Edward Nelson The Eskimo About the Bering Strait, 1899


wenty-one years ago, an armada of 60 or more airplanes descended on the small village of Toksook Bay on the coast of the Bering Sea. They carried singers, dancers, reporters, filmmakers, priests, and the just plain curious. The passengers came from villages all around the Y-K Delta, from Nome, from Anchorage, Fairbanks and even California. Five hundred or more people dropped out of the sky, nearly doubling the size of Toksook Bay in just a few hours. They came for the triennial Yup’ik Dance Festival—Yupiit Yuraryarait—and to see and to celebrate—The Masks. Three days earlier, an aptly named flying boxcar delivered several large crates to Toksook Bay. The crates contained nearly 40 Yup’ik masks acquired from the Y-K Delta and Bristol Bay region a century before and dispersed into museum collections around the world. Once in Tooksok Bay, the crates were offloaded into pickup trucks and delivered to the local school, where a group of museum professionals, village elders, and volun-


teers anxiously waited to open the crates and install their contents in exhibit cases lining the walls of one of the classrooms. The exhibit would only last four days. The return of these old masks to the place of their creation was the driving motivation for the most ambitious museum exhibit project ever mounted in Alaska at the time: Agayuliyararput—Our Way of Making Prayer: The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks. Unconventional for its time, the exhibit was funded by the Alaska Humanities Forum and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Organizers included the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in collaboration with the Museum of the University Alaska in Fairbanks, the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, the Burke Museum in Seattle, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the Museum for Volkerkunde in Berlin. All had significant collections of Yup’ik masks. Once the masks were organized in the display cases, the festivities began. Elders from the participating villages were encouraged to view the masks and tell what they could remember about the use of masks or from stories they heard from their elders. Yup’ik scholar Marie Meade and anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan were there to record it all. Classes were held with children from the village, where they learned about the pur-

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

pose, meaning, and importance of masks and mask dancing to their ancestors. And in the adjacent gym the children watched and joined their parents, aunts, uncles, and hundreds of distant cousins from around the Y-K Delta dance, sing, laugh, and pray for four magic days. The festivities began on a Thursday evening with a Mass in the gym celebrated by Father Rene Astruc, the Jesuit priest most credited with reversing the repressive attitude of his Catholic church toward Yup’ik dancing and ceremonies. Immediately following the Mass, Father Astruc and village elders lit a seal oil lamp and created incense from Labrador tea to purify the masks and the people in the gym. Traditionally this ceremony cleansed hunters before they set out to find game for the village. The St. Mary’s dance group, led by dance festival founder Andrew Paukan, opened the first night festivities with a song about the importance of the drum, composed by Andy Kinzy, one of the more prolific Yup’ik composers of his generation, who had recently passed away. The group used a ceremonial shaman’s drum carved by John McIntyre to inaugurate the event. The host village Toksook Bay dancers followed with a series of welcoming songs and dances. Then, as if to show the embracing nature of the Yup’ik people, the night reversed course and ended with rock and roll and country “English” dancing until midnight.

top : Pingayaq (John Pingayak) of Chevak puts the finishing touches on a fish mask that was presented and danced during Yupiit Yuraryarait at Toksook Bay in 1996. After the dance he presented it as a gift to Father Rene Astruc. middle : Aplaaq (James Ayuluk) from Chevak dancing at Yupiit Yuraryarait in Toksook Bay in 1996 bottom : Stephanie Carl of Toksook Bay performs during Yupiit Yuraryarait at Tooksook Bay in 1996. Three photos by James Barker

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


Every day for the next three days, 22 village groups performed. Eleven groups danced and sang before a dinner break, and eleven groups after. Dancing continued until well after midnight. In addition to the exhibit in the school and the dancing in the gym, the families of Toksook Bay also entertained the visitors. There were no hotels or lodging facilities, so all visitors were accommodated in local homes. Some families hosted as many at 30 guests occupying every inch of floor space for the little sleeping that did occur during the four-day event. There were so many guests in the village that the water system couldn’t keep up. People were encouraged to forego showers, flush toilets sparingly, and make water from snow and ice for the many steam baths that were lit every day. The Yup’ik mask exhibit was open for viewing by 10 a.m. every day. A steady stream of elders told stories about masks and mask dancing to Ann and Marie. Three museum curators took copious notes when elders discussed masks from their museum collections. The masks were only in Toksook Bay because museums agreed to lend them for the exhibit in the village on the condition that professional curators stayed with them 24/7. Three curators rotated sleeping in the classroom with the masks. The exhibit closed early on Sunday, but dancing went on until 2:00 a.m. Around 10:00 a.m. Monday morning the planes began arriving and by the end of the day most visitors had returned home to their villages. The masks and the exhibit cases were crated and prepared for shipping to Bethel. When the day arrived for the departure of the masks, the weather closed in. When the skies cleared, the flying boxcar was down for repairs. People in Toksook Bay began to wonder if the masks still held magic and didn’t want to leave. Four days were lost before the masks were finally delivered to Bethel’s Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, only hours before the scheduled opening. After a two-month layover in Bethel, the masks moved next to the Anchorage Museum for the summer of 1996 where they were joined by more than two hundred additional masks and artifacts. After Anchorage the exhibit went to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History inWashington D.C., and the Seattle Art Museum before returning to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau and its closing venue in the spring of 1999 at the Samuel K. Fox Museum


When the day arrived for the departure of the masks, the weather closed in. People in Toksook Bay began to wonder if the masks still held magic and didn’t want to leave. in Dillingham. The exhibit began in Yup’ik country and ended in Yup’ik country. Now, what to think more than two decades later? Certainly, Agayuliyararput demonstrated that Edward Nelson didn’t get it quite right. Nelson collected many of the masks and artifacts that were eventually a part of the exhibit when he was stationed in St. Michael for the Army Signal Corps in the 1870’s. Even though mask dancing is no longer a central element of ceremonial life, it was apparent at Toksook Bay the “wealth and the knowledge about the mythological fancy” of Yup’ik masks was not a sealed book. The masks may now be back in their museums but their images are no longer lost. The faces of these masks now appear in posters, books, magazines, and on-line exhibits, and provide inspiration to a new generation of carvers. Some Yup’ik dance groups have even brought masks back into their performances. Agayuliyararput launched a new era of cooperation between Alaska Natives and muse-

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

ums in Alaska and around the world. Museums have since become sources of exploration for cultural revival, and Alaska Natives have become key informants providing context to artifacts that generally languish in drawers and storage rooms. Exhibits highlighting Alaska Native cultures now incorporate Alaska Natives as curators and designers. Exhibits that focus on historical events in Alaska are now more likely to consider the perspective of Alaska Natives. And thanks to the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, Alaska artifacts once housed in storage rooms of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History are now in Alaska, and many are on permanent display in the Alaska Native Gallery of the Anchorage Museum. The Yup’ik mask exhibit also demonstrated the transformative power of a good idea. The motivation to show artifacts and return them both visually and physically to Alaska and rural Alaska in particular did not originate with museums. It was inspired by a similar, but much smaller, event held seven years earlier in Mountain Village, when residents of the Lower Yukon asked the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka to make Yup’ik masks from its collection available for viewing during the 1989 Yup’ik Dance Festival. Museum curator Peter Corey hesitated, but was moved by the request, and the seed was sewn for Agayuliyararput, an exhibit that history may someday consider a watershed moment for all Native cultures in Alaska. And who knows, maybe we learned the masks still have magic. After visiting the exhibit at Bethel’s Yupiit Piciryarait cultural center John Active, in a column for Anchorage Daily News, mused upon the power of the masks: Why is it if the missionaries claimed that these masks were used in an idolatrous manner, some of them took these masks home with them when they retired? These masks are powerful and I think they caused these very same missionaries to lose their minds for a while and caused them to take the masks with them for safekeeping and unknowingly helped save our cultural spirituality.

Perhaps those very same masks caused museum curators to lose their minds and bring the masks back home. Tim Troll and collaborator Andrew Paukan from St. Mary’s organized the Yup’ik mask exhibit and dance festival in Toksook Bay in 1996.

support AKHF

we need to hear from you!

Your Humanities Council

FORUM Magazine Brings You the Best

There are 56 humanities councils, located in all U.S. states and jurisdictions, created to share and preserve the history, culture, and perspectives unique to each state. 
 Alaska Humanities Forum is your state council. Serving Alaskans for over 40 years, we offer programming, events, and grants that engage, inform, and connect people across our state. We encourage critical and compassionate thinking and dialogue about the future of Alaska. Each year, we receive federal funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) that requires a matching investment from individuals, foundations, corporations, and other partners. Your gift makes it possible for us to support grassroots humanities projects; develop local leaders; prepare youth and educators through cultural experiences; and convene community members and organizations around important topics to share ideas and develop solutions.

We’re growing to three issues a year. Come with us.

Make a Gift • Give online at – make a monthly pledge or one-time gift • Call Jann Mylet, Director of Development and Communications: (907) 272-5302 • Mail a check to the Forum: 161 E. 1st Ave, Door 15, Anchorage, AK 99501 • Double your impact – ask your employer about making a matching gift • Select Alaska Humanities Forum when you Pick.Click.Give.

continue your journey

To ensure you keep receiving FORUM, you must let us know you want to remain a subscriber.

through the people, voices, and arts of Alaska in the wide-open pages of FORUM magazine. For

articles by nationally-known

A minimum $25 donation is suggested (unless you’re already a donor to the Alaska Humanities Forum), but no payment is required.

writers, and the best coverage

It’s easy to continue your subscription:

of the humanities in the state.

MAIL: fill out the form on the enclosed envelope and mail it

Please act to make sure this


diverse and compelling vision of


Alaska arrives in your mailbox—

CALL: (907) 272-5341

five years, FORUM has combined award-winning images, original

now three times a year. Writers, Photographers, and Artists in the Pages of FORUM Brian Adams

Willie Hensley

Deb McKinney

Ademola Bello

Loren Holmes

Dan O’Neill

Richard Dauenhauer

Ben Huff

Clark James Mishler

Anne Hanley

Eowyn Ivey

Duke Russell

Ernestine Hayes

Jen Kinney

Charles Wohlforth A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



Jonathon Lack Jonathon Lack, 46, was born

in Anchorage to a Japanese mother and a Swedish father. He graduated from East High School in 1988, obtained a degree in Political Science from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in 1992, then studied law at the University of Richmond. During his undergraduate and law school years, Lack worked for U.S. Senator Ted Stevens in various roles, from intern to staff assistant to Deputy Counsel. He moved back to Anchorage in 1997, where he participated in the very first Leadership Anchorage cohort. Living and working in Anchorage, he practiced family law, worked for the legislature, and still found time for extensive volunteering with organizations including the Alaska Humanities Forum, Anchorage Youth Court, and Safe Harbor Inn. In 2004 Lack received the First Lady’s Alaska Volunteer of the Year Award, and was inducted into the National Youth Court Volunteer Hall of Honor. In 2007 he was appointed Family, Children’s and Probate Master for the Superior Court in Anchorage. He served there for five and one-half years before accepting a similar position as Family Court Commissioner for Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia, Washington, where he now resides. Lack was a member of the board of directors for the Alaska Humanities Forum from 19982004, and then again from 20112013, briefly serving as chairman of the board from 2012-2013. Even from afar, he remains an invaluable advocate for the Alaska Humanities Forum.


Jonathon Lack in Ketchikan, 2015. Photo courtesy of Jonathon Lack

Donor since:


I was in the 1996-1997 Leadership Anchorage class, the very first one, and I really got a lot out of it. At the time, it was entirely a scholarship program, and I felt like I had gotten this great gift from the Alaska Humanities Forum. I feel the need to repay that gift back to the Forum, and to make the program available to others who could benefit from it as well.

Why I Give:

You were part of the first ever Leadership Anchorage cohort 20 years ago. What was that like?

I loved it. I essentially had been gone from Alaska for nine years, doing college and working and such, and when I got back I really didn’t know anybody. I saw LA as an opportunity to meet people again and get involved in the community, which it certainly was. It also exposed me to the Alaska Humanities Forum, which I hadn’t known much about before. I made great friends that I still keep in touch with today. I’d especially like to mention Angelina Burney, who became a very dear friend when we were in the program together. She’s been involved in Leadership Anchorage as an alumna for 20 years now. I think my involvement with the Humanities Forum has been just as much a story about her as a story about me.

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

Why did you join the Alaska Humanities Forum board of directors?

Part of the idea of Leadership Anchorage was to get more ethnic diversity in the community organizations in Anchorage. The Forum’s board was looking to diversify itself as well. After my cohort was done, Steve Lindbeck, the Forum CEO at the time, approached me about joining the board. I was younger than most of the board members then, I was an ethnic minority, and I had been part of Leadership Anchorage, which brought onboard a cheerleader for the program. Why did you leave Alaska?

It was really hard. I’d gotten this job offer in Washington that I felt was a huge opportunity for me. I wanted a change of pace, I

wanted to experience new things. It’s been a going on, figure out how to get them back into good experience for me, but I certainly miss school, whether the problem is coming from Alaska and have lots of personal regrets about a parental issue, or maybe a resource issue. leaving. I would have loved to stay on as chair- We also have what are called at-risk youth. A man of the board of the Humanities Forum. parent can bring a plea to the court to bring a I left so many friends… I haven’t been camp- child to an at-risk status, which is if the child’s ing in three years! I don’t know where to camp misbehaving at home with drugs or other ishere. You have to make a sues. The court can support reservation at a campground the parents, and our juvenile months in advance; you can’t probation officer can provide The Alaska just get in your car and go. services like mental health And I love to go fishing, but counseling or drug intervenHumanities Forum I don’t have a special fishtion, that type of thing. It’s a ing hole here. I see pictures lot like the work I was doing is really about what on Facebook of my friends in Anchorage, which I really it means to be fishing, and I think, “Oh, enjoyed. I’m finding it fulfillthis is the weekend in an ing. an Alaskan, and even-numbered year when I should be fishing for pinks Why do you continue to sharing that vision in Hope.” So that’s been difsupport the Forum? ficult. I took some trips to and that ideal. McCarthy in the couple Everything that I am, and years before I left Alaska, everything that I’ve done in for example. I don’t know if my life, I truly believe comes you’ve ever been there, but it from being blessed with havis literally the most beautiful ing been born and raised in place in the world. If you don’t believe in God, Alaska. How I interact with other people, in it’s a place where you go and you stand and terms of charity, how I see the world, my life you know that there’s no way this place could experience… I had a single mom growing have occurred other than by divine interven- up who always had two or three jobs just to tion. And there are beautiful places in Wash- pay the bills, and I don’t think we would have ington too, but, you know. It’s not Alaska. been able to make it had we lived anywhere else. The neighbors watched out for us. I was What are you doing now in an ethnic minority, and I didn’t even realize it because Anchorage was so diverse, even back Washington? then. As an Alaskan, I didn’t ever feel like I I’m a Family General Court Commissioner, was judged by anything other than my capawhich means I’m not one of the elected judges bility. My mother never finished college, but here in Olympia, but rather one of the ap- she worked her way up, because it’s a function pointed commissioners, like a deputy judge. In of this: nobody cared what your degree was, Anchorage, we were called Masters, but now nobody cared who your dad was or who your they’ve changed the title to Superior Court mom was, or where you went to college; they Magistrates. I do the high-volume family law just cared that you could do the job. I feel the hearings—domestic violence hearings, tem- need to give back to Alaska, and I think that porary child support, temporary spousal sup- the best way to do that is through the Alaska port orders, possession of the house. I’m also Humanities Forum, because the Forum is reon juvenile rotation right now, so I work with ally about what it means to be an Alaskan, and juvenile delinquency. In Washington State sharing that vision and that ideal. they also have truancy cases, for kids who are not attending school. You can figure out what’s Interview by Lillian Maassen

The Alaska Humanities Forum: A Good Pick Pick.Click.Give. allows Alaskans to easily share part or all of their Permanent Fund Divided with nonprofit organizations they care about. The 2017 PFD application period is January 1 through March 31. When you apply, please consider making a gift to the Alaska Humanities Forum.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



People and Stories Honoring Distinguished Service to the Humanities at the 2017 Governor’s Awards

Ernestine Hayes was named Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2017-2018. Photo by Seanna O’Sullivan


laska is not about numbers, it’s about people,” said Alaska Governor Bill Walker. “When we talk about balancing the checkbook, between each dollar, we see people. We see faces.” Gov. Walker addressed an audience of state lawmakers, legislative staffers, and other supporters of the arts and humanities at the 2017 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities ceremony, held Jan. 26 in Juneau. The yearly awards are co-presented by the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, and the Office of the Governor. They celebrate remarkable contributions to the arts and humanities in Alaska. This year’s arts awards winners were: Lance Petersen (Individual Artist); Lani Hotch (Arts Business Leadership); Marilyn Davidson (Arts Education); Kathleen Carlo Kendall, Fairbanks (Alaska Native Arts); and Charlotte Fox (Lifetime Achievement in the Arts). Three Alaskans received awards for Distinguished Service to the Humanities. Designer and composer Robert Banghart of Juneau was recognized for his work in designing 10 new museums and cultural centers, including the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum. Quoting Mark Twin, Banghart said, “The man with a new idea is viewed as a crank until the new idea succeeds.” Anchorage performer and activist Shirley Mae Springer Staten was honored for coordinating a citywide celebration of Dr.


Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Young Women’s Leadership Conference, among other achievements. She expressed that stories and music “allow us to move those 18 inches from the head to the heart and connect with each other.” Haines writer Heather Lende received a Governor’s award for sharing small-town Alaska with the world through her three best-selling non-fiction books, most recently Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer. The 2017 Alaska Studies Educator of the Year award went to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District educator Rob Sparks for his innovative use of videoconferencing to connect Alaska students with peers around the world. The ceremony finale was renowned Juneau author Ernestine Hayes being named Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2017-2018. Hayes’ 2006 memoir Blonde Indian, won an American Book Award. Her latest book, The Tao of Raven, uses the Tlingit creation story of Raven and the Box of Daylight to explore her deep anger at the prejudices still facing Alaska Natives in their homeland. (See page 34 in this magazine for an excerpt from The Tao of Raven.) Hayes teaches creative writing at the University of Alaska Southeast and is a member of the Alaska Humanities Forum Board of Directors. She agreed to debut two pieces of writing in this issue of Forum. They are on the opposite page.

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

Beaded Prose I fancy too often that I write verse. Line-

ended thoughts, enjambed insights, and end-stopped profundities crowd the margins of last year’s planner. Syllables forced into stubborn couplets, ideas compelled into corseted stanzas, iambs and trochees organized into something I want to call music. But all my writing—eventually, inevitably, insistently—becomes prose. The past several months have been laden with challenges and excitement and satisfaction and pain, no less and no more than occur in anyone’s storied life. Now that I’m old, I look for meaning, search for metaphor, try to understand. I tell myself to share these lessons, but I don’t know what I’ve learned until I see it crafted into prose. I’ve described the writing in my memoirs as an attempt to weave words. Now, though, I hope my writing is becoming more like something beaded: events stitched onto my life to form a pattern. “Waiting Room” represents two events that came upon me during the recent year, each bearing an invitation to learn something important. “Now and Then I Take the Midnight Public Transit” is my attempt to recognize the metaphors that are threaded throughout our lives. These patterns have stitched themselves into prose. Gunalchéesh. —Ernestine Hayes, Juneau

Breakdancer Bri Mcmillen performed at the Governor’s Awards. Photo by Seanna O’Sullivan

Left to right: Gov. Walker, Rob Sparks, Charlotte Fox, Ernestine Hayes, Bob Banghart, Lance Petersen, Frank Soos, Lani Hotch, Heather Lende, Shirley Mae Springer Staten, Marilyn Davidson. Not shown: Kathleen Carlo Kendall. Photo by Seanna O’Sullivan

Now and Then I Take the Midnight Public Transit I’ve paid my dues, so I always ride for free. People in front seats compare Perseverance and Sheep Creek. Colonize with their words. Take ownership. We’re placed in predetermined seats, some more comfortable than others. First class and MVPs board before the rest. The system thanks us for our patience as we wait. Through sooty, beveled windows (there are no other views) we watch the neighborhoods roll by. Pint-sized houses line narrow dirt streets. Street signs detour us through bottles and handguns, bodies and barbecues, music and moaning. Dogshit. Mud puddles. Abandoned cars. Next a two-lane street, this one paved. Houses with patches of halfhearted green, cars propped on blocks, gaping hoods, broken furniture, scattered wrenches. Playthings for snot-nosed children racing against traffic, diapers full, futures empty, families raucous with unmodeled love. First stop a circled turn-around-and-goback—unless we’re here to visit incarcerated hopes housed behind locked gates and barbed fences guarded by holstered

white men who won’t look us in the eye. With luck we can graduate from wishing our sons were not in prison to hoping they won’t go back. Next stop as far as most of us might go. Clean streets, lawns lined with smiling purple flowers, happy windows hiding twentieth-century satisfactions. We’ve earned our place in this colony. We speak the colonizer’s language, parrot his judgments, mirror his values, follow his rules. We pray to his god. The public route does not go through the privileged part of town. We can only guess the cost of a ticket to that neighborhood. We can only be glad we were never given the chance to sell out our dirt street neighbors, to make ourselves money-rich, to sponsor white scholars who colonize us with their words. The language choked out of us they now own. Our smothered history they now record. Our beaten ceremonies they now conduct. Our bonfired art they now teach. Our clans are now corporations. Our leaders are now purchased. Our past is not yet resurrected. Our future has not yet arrived.

Waiting Room When finally I am a ghost I will cross this street I will walk toward that door I will not be seen I will not be noticed I will be invisible no less invisible no less noticed no less seen than those days those weeks those years I was the fatherless daughter of a cannery working city café dish washing fish sliming floor mopping learning to type so she can rise up to be a clerk at a desk in a white man’s office in a white man’s world Tlingit Kaagwaantaan woman living in a colonized territory where mothers speak a language their children are forbidden to know. * How can I be of any help now when I was no help at all during those years when they were children when I thought I was keeping them warm when I thought I was feeding them when every time I found a nickel on the ground I thought I ran to the store to spend it on them: my broken, colonized generations. Waiting in this transient room waiting waiting to live out a few thin years continued on next page

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



Waiting Room continued from previous page

somewhere anywhere, no more false home-of-my-own dreams no more family dinners no more pitiful fragments, shards of living—these memories these reminders these bits of my undone life. * Only these stories. * An old woman inches off the wheelchair lift. She confesses her birthdate to the receptionist. She was born four years before me. Insert here my hair-raising dread at the inescapable burning imminence embodied in the realization that this skinny foot-in-the-grave been around and around and around granny looking long past her use-by date was a baby when I was a baby. We could have toddled together. And now we are old women, nodding hello to one another in a behavioral clinic waiting room waiting waiting waiting, she leaning on an aluminum walker and I sitting with my back against the wall, casual inevitable blood-damp bandages collecting the crusted grime I drag myself through. Some wounds I only witness, some wounds I only create, as with the rest of the walking wounded we shuffle toward our common grave. * Green-stained words bounce against a cluttered table. Good to see you together again, my friend remarks. Amen, sister, I reply. My voice rises to a clouded sky that holds its rain for thirty years. After a generation, the sudden reveal: suddenly stooped suddenly small, the suddenly absent smile. After the widening path, after uphill struggles, uncaring alpine days, killer whale nights, asphalt lectures, no more traded yesterdays, no more tomorrowed hopes. Only the suddenly now, only the amen price. Only a wrinkled girl reciting genocide dates. Only this storied woman. Only these stories.


A Gentleman and Scholar Remembering John Cloe By Heather Lende


t author and military historian Col. John Cloe’s Jan. 21 memorial service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage, Rev. Michael Burke noted that Cloe was a man who chose his words carefully and spoke sparingly. “He was never flashy. He exuded a quiet confidence. He would bore down to the truth, speak the truth in as few words as possible, then just look at you with that ‘John Cloe’ look.” It was a look his colleagues at the Alaska Humanities Forum knew well and will miss. Cloe (78) died Dec. 26, at home in Anchorage, of heart failure following a brief illness. His wife Susan Cloe and his family were at his side. Governor Sean Parnell appointed Cloe to the Alaska Humanities Forum board in 2011. He would have finished his second term this year. Cloe’s books include Top Cover for America: The Air Force in Alaska (1984); The Aleutian Warriors, a History of the Eleventh Air Force and Fleet Air Wing Four (1992); and Mission to the Kurils (2016), about the little known Alaska-based air and naval operations against Japan following the Battle of Attu. The National Park Service is publishing his history of the Battle of Attu this year. In addition, Cloe wrote over forty papers on the Cold War, though many remain classified. He was the recipient of four Air Force level awards, the Alaska Historical Society’s Alaskan Historian of the Year and Trail Blazer Awards, and the American Aviation Historical Society’s Author Award for 2004. Though Cloe served in the infantry in Vietnam, he didn’t write or speak of that history.

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

However, it informed his work. In his 2015 Forum magazine feature about poets of World War I, “For the Fallen,” Cloe wrote: Poetry, especially by those intimate with the shock of combat, provides one clear means of understanding the connections between the humanities and warfare. Nowhere is this more evident than the works of the British war poets of World War I. Theirs is not media entertainment and embellishment, but the actual brutal business of killing and destroying, a deep cry for understanding.

John Haile Cloe was born and reared in Virginia. His father owned a thriving dairy farm that was seized by eminent domain in World War II and became Marine Corps Base Quantico. Cloe was a Boy Scout, “who never stopped being a Boy Scout,” family member Dan Ryynanen said. Cloe graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1963, served two tours in Vietnam and, after completing his active duty career, worked as a civilian Air Force historian. He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1992. He came to Alaska in 1970 from Fort Benning, Georgia. because it was too hot. When an air conditioner broke, he told the Alaska Dispatch News, he requested a “cooler assignment.” He drove the Alaska Highway with his first wife, Catherine “Cay” Hill who died in 1992. He married Jane Slisco in 1995 and she died in 2008. His family says John “found love a third time,” after meeting Susan (Satin) Cloe in church at St. Mary’s. They were married

five and a half years, but displayed a public Megan Zlatos, Humanities Forum Director closeness that gave the impression that they of Grants and Special Projects, said Cloe ardently supported projects with the most comhad been together for much longer. An accomplished mountaineer, Cloe munity impacts, especially the Duty Bound climbed the highest peak in all states but initiative linking military stories and culture Alaska. Illness prevented him from reaching with the humanities to better serve Alaska’s the top of Denali. (His effort to summit Ever- veterans and military personnel. “John believed that our primary role is to help support est suffered the same fate.) In bearing, visualize an outdoorsy-history- the humanities in Alaska among Alaskans, ” professor tempered with a military officer’s Zlatos said. “He cared deeply about the hureserve and a Southerner’s sense of decorum. manities writ large.” “John was undoubtedly fascinated by the His favorite tool was a chainsaw, and he mixed raw conflict and outcomes of battle. But “a mean martini,” Susan Cloe said. John Cloe is also survived by stepdaughters through his interest and support of the huand stepsons, Cynthia and Dan Ryynanen of manities he sought to support and honor the Maple Valley, Wash., Christina (Andrews) and fallen,” said Jim Renkert, who served with Rob Jennings of Napa, Calif., Toms and Kelly Cloe on the advisory board of Friends of Andrews, Christian and Leslie Andrews, and Nike Site Summit. Cloe supported the group Christopher and Kelly Andrews, all of An- by hosting gatherings, historical research, chorage; and nine stepgenerous donations, grandchildren. and advocacy. The Nike Cloe was “meticuSite Summit was a Nike In bearing, visualize an lous” in everything Hercules nuclear missile he put his name to site overlooking Anoutdoorsy-history-professor and his “grail was chorage that was armed tempered with a military the facts,” said Mike from 1959 to 1979. In Dunham of the Anthe 1960s soldiers at the officer’s reserve and a chorage Daily News site first lit the star that and Alaska Dispatch is still visible from Ansoutherner’s sense of News. He counted on chorage in the winter, Cloe’s guidance on on the mountainside decorum. His favorite tool military stories. As the below the missile launch Air Force history ofpads. Renkert believes was a chainsaw, and he ficer at Elmendorf Air that Cloe viewed the Force Base, Cloe had former missile site, like mixed “a mean martini.” access to military files the Arctic Valley Star and, Dunham said, that marks it, as a symwas skilled at navigating them and the Na- bol of hope, because the deadly warheads tional Archives. He called Cloe’s knowledge were never fired. of the Aleutian campaign “encyclopedic,” Cloe was also a member of the board of diand praised Mission to the Kurils as the first rectors of the Alaska Historical Commission, history of “a key battle on the Pacific Front, the Air Force Association, the Eleventh Air launched and coordinated from Alaska, Force Association, and a private pilot. about which Alaskans—and even World War II buffs in the rest of the country—had Col. Suellyn Wright Novak, USAF rehitherto known little if anything.” Dunham tired and the Executive Director of the Alaska appreciated Cloe’s manners. “He was always Veteran’s Museum, shared Cloe’s passion for a gentleman, even when chiding me on military history. The pair gave annual tours some detail I had wrong or about which we of the Aleutian sections of the Valor in the disagreed,” Dunham said. Pacific National Monument. “John felt the Anchorage attorney Eric Wohlforth was in story needed to be told,” she said. “John loved the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Men’s Group maps,” and making sure they were accuthat met annually at Cloe’s cabin on a lake rate. She can close her eyes and see him still, near Willow. He recalled “pleasant times of marching over the weather beaten World War long relaxed conversations. John, the histori- II battle sites, “Hell-bent for leather.” an, had all of the Life magazines of the World When she asked Cloe to contribute his War II years and these sparked many observa- Vietnam combat story for a museum oral histions and comparisons to the present day.” tory project he replied in a word: “No.” She

John Cloe. Photo courtesy of Susan Cloe

pressed him with many of the arguments he made about the importance of personal military stories, and he replied no again, saying, “I didn’t do anything special.” “John was the finest example I ever saw of a Southern gentlemen. He was a true Virginian,” Wright Novak said. Cloe chose to begin “For the Fallen” with an observation from the tenth chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and fellow Vietnam veteran, William “Bro” Adams, about surviving a war and its influence on the mind and heart: “As a 20-year old combat infantry advisor, I came face to face, acutely, with questions that writers, artists, philosophers, and musicians examine in their work, starting with, ‘What does it mean to be human?’” Cloe spent a lifetime studying Alaska’s military history in the hopes of shedding some new light on the answer to that old question. “John was an exceptional human being, of high intelligence, accomplishment, and great modesty. I am going to miss him very much,” concluded friend Eric Wohlforth, echoing the sentiments of many others who knew and worked with John Cloe. Haines author Heather Lende has written about 400 obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News. She has published three nationally recognized collections of her work and is the recipient of a 2017 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17



The stories of five individuals featured in Jenny Irene Miller’s groundbreaking photography series. Continuous, in their own words. By Aurora Ford Photos by Jenny Irene Miller


Jenny Irene Miller made her first pho-

tography series when she was seven years old using the Polaroid camera she’d inherited two years earlier when her great-grandmother passed away. A couple of decades later, her love of telling stories through photography has led to her groundbreaking portraiture series Continuous, featuring individuals from Alaska’s Two Spirit community. Miller received a 2016 Alaska Humanities Forum general grant for the project, and her photos were exhibited in the Forum’s lobby gallery earlier this year. The portraits contain a common thread of mostly stark backgrounds, in spite of the ready availability of picturesque landscapes in Alaska. The result is effective. The human at the center of the portrait stands out, not the space they’re taking up. “I think a lot of that comes from growing up in Nome where it’s often overcast,” says Miller. “I do

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

like a kind of stale background that makes the person really pop out. And I’m a huge fan of that deadpan photography.” The term “Two Spirit” was adopted in the early 1990s at a gathering of gay and lesbian indigenous North Americans to describe LGBTQ Alaska Natives and Native Americans. The original Two Spirit concept has been around far longer. There are many different specific terms for Two Spirit people in North American indigenous languages. Evidence that, historically, Two Spirit people were not only accepted and sometimes revered is present in more than 150 different indigenous cultural groups throughout the continent. Today, use of the Two Spirit term by indigenous LGBTQ people expands its meaning, while offering a connection to cultural heritage that was devastated by the forced introduction of Christianity following


FA L L 2 016

I’m almost 19 years old, was born and raised here in Nome. I first got on a dirt bike at about three years old. I’m the second youngest out of seven kids so my little brother and I have been lucky and had things passed down to us from our older siblings: snowmachines, dirt bikes, trucks, everything. I ride dirt bikes and race snowmachines. I’m pretty fearless. I’ll go out riding and be a complete savage about it. I’m also always out shooting things. I guess I got it Bethany Horton was on the cover of from my dad, he’s always been the fall issue of Forum. there to take me out hunting, Photo by Jenny Irene Miller and I go with my uncle Ray who lives down in Wasilla. All of our family hunts, but I guess I’m a little out of the ordinary. I like to go out and shoot birds and give them to the elders. Anything that I shoot and kill, I share it with the community. I don’t just save it for my family. I give it to whoever in the community can’t go out there and me for being a lesbian. He’s totally changed provide for themselves, because I have the his tune. time, ability and gas to go do it. I’ve been Jenny’s project has really started teaching my little nephew the values of something. I see a lot more people posting hunting. He just turned four. I want him about it and coming out to their families not to see hunting as, “You shot it so you now that all that stuff with Jenny is out. keep it for yourself,” but to always give They come to me with questions about how to other people. So he’s been shooting to come out to their parents because they ptarmigan and we’ll take them over to his know I’ve done it, they want to know how I grandfather’s house. went about it and how I felt afterwards and I’ve never really hidden [my sexuality] I tell them straight up: I did struggle, I was from anyone, but when I first actually told scared, and then afterwards I felt so much my parents, I was about 15, I was afraid better. I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. they’d kick me out. Instead, my mom’s I don’t really hear comments from the response was, “Oh, yeah, I already knew older [LGBTQ] generation up here about that. I’ve known that since you were young.” it because maybe they’re too scared of what A lot of people up here are weird about it. society will think of them, but people in The guys will either say it’s gross, or they’ll the younger generation and even younger try and come after you like, “Oh, that’s so than me, they come to me. They know I’m hot.” Most people are really welcoming, but here with open arms, they can always talk others are like, “Just stay the hell away from to me. I think it’ll make it easier for a lot of me. We don’t want you around us.” There’s people once they see that there are more of a guy up here that runs a Bible group and us out there like them. Some people treat last year I posted a picture of me and my it like it’s a disease, but I don’t care what current girlfriend and he commented, people think of me. I’m going to live it the “God is going to send you to the Devil for way I want to. this, I can’t believe you’re like this, you have so much I ride dirt bikes and race more going for you.” My response was, “Look, I am snowmachines. I’m pretty the way I am, and I’m not going to change it because fearless. I’ll go out riding and you say something like that,” and now he’s praising be a complete savage about it. ANONYMOUS SAMURAI

Decorated Veteran Finds Transcendence in Tattooing

CITIES UNDER GLASS Space Age Metropolises of the Last Frontier


Photographs of Beauty, Neglect, and Humanity


Wild Sounds, Music, and the Resonance of Place

Bethany Horton

the arrival of Europeans to North America. For people who sometimes face prejudice on two fronts, racism and homophobia, the revival of the Two Spirit concept brings with it belonging, historical context, and identity. It is Jenny Miller’s intention to strengthen that culture. “I really wanted to elevate those people, build that community, and make it more visible and hopefully reach out to our youth in rural Alaska,” Jenny says. “I know from my childhood, not having that support was troublesome. A lot of the media that’s out there, it’s people that don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, who don’t know what it means to be indigenous and also a part of this [Two Spirit] community, which are often separated, but they should be together.”

Aurora Ford is a former Vice Media writer and frequent contributor to the Anchorage Press.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


I was on board with Jenny’s

project from the beginning. Jenny and I are both from Nome. Her older brother Jake and I were friends and classmates. Their family moved there when Jenny was 10 or so. She and I reconnected through work a few years ago and developed a friendship, because we knew each other from being little kids, but also we’re both Alaska Native women who both, around the same time, were “coming out,” which is really a process that happens in stages. As LGBTQ2S, we’re always going to be in a state of coming out. I will, probably forever, be asked questions like, “Who is your husband?” or “Do you have a boyfriend?” So Jenny and I had a number of things in common and we were really able to support each other. She started to talk about this portrait series she was going to be doing and asked if I’d be interested, and I was on board right away. I had had conversations with my mom about how I liked women, and she kept doing the mom thing at first, saying things like, “Look at him, he’s cute… maybe you guys should hook up.” And I was so tired of having that conversation with her. But beyond a small group of friends I’d never said specifically, “I just want to be in relationships with women. I’m able to connect with them in ways I’m not able to connect with men.” So when I finally came out to everyone in my family was when I met my current partner. We met almost three years ago at the Inuit Circumpolar Council conference in Inuvik, which is in the Northwest Territories in Canada, and became friends. We kept up messaging through social media and that was it. I came out to my family by telling them I’d met someone from Nunavut, and when I got the inevitable question, “Well, who is he?” I’d say, “Her name is Jessi.” So it was a simultaneous coming out and introducing my family to my partner. My family was immediately so accepting. Not everybody is met with that much love and acceptance and I’m eternally grateful that my family was able to accept my partner so fully. It was already hard enough dating somebody who lived basically on the other side of the continent and if my family were not accepting, it would have made moving to be with her even more difficult if not impossible. Part of the reason that Jenny helped developed this community of Two Spirit individuals was to provide a space that is safe for Alaska Native people that identify as LGBTQ2S because that was lacking in the Native community. We


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

are unpacking our own shit with colonization and the effects it’s had on our community, and part of that is reclaiming some of our values that were done away with through Christianity. One of those things is going back and visiting the idea that relationships should only exist between a man and a woman, that gender is a fixed thing. That didn’t come from our culture. I had a very dear elder friend who recently passed away. He was Iñupiaq, from King Island, and when he found out I was moving to Nunavut for love, he said to me, “What’s his name? I want to know everything about him.” When I told him that her name is Jessi, he got very quiet and didn’t say anything for a while. Then he started carrying on telling other stories, and I was like, “Oh shit. He’s rejecting me.” And then out of nowhere he said, “It used to be, that when a young man or a young woman found someone to be with and brought them home, their family was happy for them because that person found someone to help take care of them and to take care of. The family was happy to have gained a new member. That’s how it used to be.” That was his way of telling me that all relationships were accepted, that families used to just be happy to be getting a new family member, that homophobia was not a tradition that we practiced. That meant so much to me. It was wonderful. It was really important for me to have that acceptance from one of our elders. It’s really carried me, especially when I’m in Nunavut and my partner comes up against resistance from some of her family members and from elders. It’s helped carry me, and in turn it’s helped carry the both of us. Indigenous people are really in the midst of a paradigm shift. We’re reclaiming our language, our spirituality, our traditional life ways and a big part of that is decolonizing ourselves and our community. Part of that The idea that relationships should process is reclaiming community only exist between a man and a roles that were gotten rid of through woman, that gender is a fixed thing, the forced introthat didn’t come from our culture. duction of Christianity including the important roles that Two Spirit individuals once held. This is a larger movement among indigenous communities worldwide. The work that Jenny’s doing, we must continue to build it and decolonize ourselves. These things can only happen with all of us together.

Photo by Jenny Irene Miller

Moriah Sallaffie

Photo by Jenny Irene Miller

based on what I’d seen growing up, and their religious beliefs and just kind of small town affiliations, but that didn’t happen. I’m thankful that I have good representation of family here in Alaska. And these are all fairly new relationships, but I’m finding that the people I am blood related to in Alaska are all just incredible people. They’re loving, they’re giving, they’re humble, and very accepting. So it’s been really easy to just be myself with them.

I was born and raised a little north of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Imagine, if you will, being smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt and grappling with this existential question about your sexuality. I was raised in the church and felt some heavy persecution, some of it self-inflicted at that point. I moved to Alaska in 1994, and was supposed to be here for just a short time. My mom is from Alaska, her family is from Ketchikan/Metlakatla area, of the Tsimshian tribe, so I had roots here. The Tsimshian tribe is a maternal tribe. We came from British Columbia and the Skeena River area. A band of the original tribe from Old Metlakatla came to New Metlakatla to settle a new place because of the Canadian government, so the place where my mom comes from is actually the only recognized Indian reservation in the state. That just goes to show the strength, ingenuity, resiliency and wisdom of the people that I come from; the appreciation for the land and the spiritual connection between all of it. When I visit there, it’s very grounding for me. The first time I went, it was really a strange and beautiful feeling because it was like being home but a home I’d never known before. I think that really solidified my bond with my family. So I ended up staying in Alaska and trying to figure out what was going on with me internally, and trying to put space between myself and my father’s side of the family due


Heather Fitts

to a huge amount of shame that was attached to what I was understanding I was becoming, at least according to the belief system I had grown up with. So needless to say, I didn’t really share a lot about myself with that side of the family. I came out to my mom when I was 19 years old. Her biggest concern was just making sure that I was comfortable within myself and wouldn’t regret any of my choices. But on the whole, she was supportive. From that time on she’s been a staunch advocate for me. I recently had a confirmation conversation with my father also. I’d never really broached the topic with him, but in the last month, I said, “Dad, you know I’m gay, right?” And he said, “Well yeah. I’ve known for a while.” It was kind of my heart breaking and mending all at once, because it was something I’d struggled with for so long, thinking that I’d be completely rejected from that side of my family just

There were a lot of things that resonated with me throughout the evening at Jenny’s show [the Jan. 13 Second Friday opening reception for the Continuous exhibit at the Forum], in casual conversation, visiting each photo, seeing people I knew and being introduced to new people. I think that on the whole, the biggest takeaway was a renewed sense of love for the community and the culture. It’s a validation. Whereas societally, a lot of times, that’s removed, be it through actual or perceived barriers. The work that she’s doing is so important. Letting people know that hey, you’re not weird, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just a part of life and a part of who some human beings are. Jenny giving voice to so many different people with so many comprised backgrounds, so many basic human commonalities, that was just so powerful. I tend to be an observer, I’m pretty social but I generally sit back and check things out. I think that’s kind of a built-in defense mechanism or at least was for me at one time, gauging who’s around me and where I can be myself or lay trust. But now, that too helps guide me in a good way. It’s gone from being a defense to an advantage in a way. I think it’s important to watch and listen. Over the past few years, with technology increasing, and I am guilty of this too, we lose our ability to actually hear what’s being said and communicated. And Jenny’s exhibition gives voice to something that maybe isn’t a comfortable thing for some people, but gives insight and some humanity so that we as people can just learn to be cordial and live out our personal experiences. Politically now, I think we have a challenge on our hands, but that’s been waking people up in ways that I think we were long overdue for. So if we can band together and look at our shared humanity instead of our differences, our humanity far outweighs those differences.

Jenny’s exhibition gives voice to something that maybe isn’t a comfortable thing for some people, but gives insight so that we as people can just learn to be cordial and live out our personal experiences.

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

I’m very proud of strong individual, I’m sassy, and I’m not easily taken down.

Photo by Jenny Irene Miller

who I am. I’m a

I’m from Egegik, which is here in Bristol Bay. I’m living in Naknek now. But I went back to Egegik every summer to commercial fish up until last year when I handed the fishing business over to my brother. That’s my home. I’ve moved all around, though. I was in Colorado, Washington, California and Oregon, I lived in Wasilla for a good eight years. I’ve been in Naknek for about eight months, and it is different and sometimes difficult. When I first moved here I thought that I was going to have to closet myself. I did at first. I wasn’t denying it to anybody but I was kind of skirting around the subject if somebody asked me or was trying to get details about my life. I’ve been met with really positive and negative opinions and views on my sexuality since I’ve been here. I’ve got some co-workers that really don’t agree with who I am. I’m kind of ashamed of myself that I considered closeting myself when I first got here because I’m aware of how dangerous it can be for people like me in these areas. But I was being afraid when I shouldn’t be. I’m happy where I’m at. I’m excit-

Anthony Capo

ed to see what the future brings to me. Growing up in Bristol Bay, I didn’t really know what I was because there was nobody else really like me. So I thought I was just different. I didn’t really know what to think of myself. I grew up in a religious home, my dad was a pastor, my mom very steadily followed the Lord. My father was supportive almost immediately but my mother didn’t really take kindly to it. I don’t know if she ever will. My coming out wasn’t really a big statement. My parents found out through the person I was dating at the time, and that was back in middle school. They tried to repress it and I didn’t know how to take that so I kind of joined in. But the older that I got, the more I became proud of myself. I started telling friends by saying I was bisexual at first because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was attracted to then. You sometimes don’t know when you’re young and not fully developed. And progressively more and more after that,

I was just out of the closet. I can’t say I ever did a dramatic story on social media about it, but if someone asks, I tell them. It’s not a big statement, it’s not a sticker on my back. It’s just that I wanted to live my life normally like everybody else does, so I tried not to make it a big deal. But in retrospect maybe it is kind of a big deal because I’m different and that’s something to be celebrated. I’m very proud of who I am. I’m a strong individual, I’m sassy, and I’m not easily taken down. I’m still getting used to being out, so it was eye-opening that so many people in Anchorage saw my face and everyone else’s stories, and it’s really wonderful to not be hidden. That community is really small and not a lot of people know about it. I personally didn’t know there was a community of LGBT Alaska Natives, and it’s nice to feel a part of something. Having it be so new, it’s very exciting and that’s only going to grow as this community progresses in the future. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


Photo by Jenny Irene Miller


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

I’m born and raised Alaska. My dad moved from Helsinki. My mom is Iñupiaq from White Mountain. At Jenny’s show my sister called my family out for it being the first LGBT event of any kind that my dad was there for. In 13 years of my being out and proud, this was the first time he’d actually stepped in. He’s been there through all my relationships and breakups, but he’d never been to a pride fest or a protest, even though I’d invited him, so he decided for this, he needed to be there. When I came out to my dad and the rest of my family they thought it was a phase and 13 years later, some of them still think it’s a phase, but it was a huge landmark that my dad was at Jenny’s show. It was hard not to cry. My sister was there the day I came out. I introduced her to Ellen Degeneres’s “The L Word.” I tried to give her signs early that maybe I was a little different. We grew up in the [Matanuska] Valley and everyone was talking about boys, but I liked her girlfriends and didn’t know how to say that. So one day, I was in my room watching HBO, thinking about how I couldn’t relate to anyone, Valentine’s Day was coming up, and then Ellen came on, talking about coming out. So I started watching shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “The L Word.” My sister and I are only 11 months and 15 days apart, so we were really close. So I tried to ease her into it, and I just crossed my fingers that she would support me because nobody at Colony Middle School was [openly] bisexual, gay or transgender. We were the only Native people there excluding like three others, so we al-

ready felt like the minority. Then one day, I was like, “Hey sis…” and she said, “You’re a lesbian, aren’t you.” So that was a relief, she had already known. The sad thing is that so many people don’t realize there are outreach groups, there are projects, there’s this huge community. The experience I went through with Jenny’s project, I was very shy about it because I’m not even open at my job. I actually work with family members that don’t fully support my sexuality and think I shouldn’t tell anyone that I’m a lesbian. That’s kind of a big chunk of me. But I can’t be open at work because, even though she supports me to some extent, my mom says she can’t have it where people know me as a lesbian. I have to deal with that every day. My mom knows I was a part of Continuous, I invited her. And she told me she couldn’t be there and that she was ashamed I was a part of it. My father used to tell me it was just a phase, but he bit the bullet and apologized to me for those things. His girlfriend is super hardcore Christian, and even she was there [at the exhibit opening] and 100 percent behind me. My mom thinks that me being a lesbian shouldn’t define who I am, but it’s such a huge fundamental factor of my daily life. So I have to guard my words at work because of her objections. But I want to go back to being as active as I used to be. I want to go to rallies and pride fests and protests. For the last five years I’ve not done that because of my mom, but that’s not benefited me at all and I’m not going to keep doing it. There’s actually a couple of my co-workers that know, and they want to be respectful of my mom, but they also believe that if she’s not comfortable with me being myself, that’s on her. I just feel after Jenny’s event, it’s redefined me and I can see clearly. There are people out there who’ve been through what I’m going through. We need more people to build this community so that more people don’t feel alone. There are people out there whose voices are not being heard. People that are young or even elders, the only way they realize who they are is a fluke scenario, like I did. I happened to see Ellen, and it shouldn’t be the way. They should know they’re not alone. That isolation some people endure is deadly. No one should feel not accepted or afraid.

The Two Spirit conI didn’t know about the Two Spirit cept, I didn’t know about that until I was inconcept until I was introduced to troduced to Continuous, Continuous. I would have much and I would have much rather come out to my rather come out to my family that family that way. I could have said, “I am Two way. I could have said, “This actually Spirited,” and when they asked what that meant I goes back to the echoes of our could have said, “Let me culture and traditions.” educate you about this concept, this actually goes back to the echoes of our culture and traditions.” As it was, I told them I was a lesbian and they didn’t believe me because I didn’t look like one. So the next thing you know, I’m chopping off my hair and trying to fit into that social norm as a teenager and that shouldn’t be the predicament. You should be able to just be yourself. A lot of people that I know, Native men that are gay, too many of them feel like they’re supposed to be this muscle-head, Abercrombie & Fitch, preppy dude. And I think they should feel comfortable to wear their traditional Native clothes and be whoever they damn well please. For some of us who are Alaska Native, we feel like we should be involved in all these events; Native corporation events, shareholder events, but you just keep wishing you could also be around people that identify with you in the other big ways too. With not only my culture, but also my identity. We have the culture connection, but identity? It’s been so diluted for so many years. Jenny doesn’t even realize what a huge thing she is doing. My dad, being the most European-Finnish gentlemen you’ve ever met, he had no idea that Alaska Native culture had a Two Spirit concept and he told me later, “If I knew that before you were born, I’d have supported you in that since the day you came out.” It broke my heart because I went through 13 years saying, “This is who I am!” but if he’d known it was part of my culture he wouldn’t have cared. It’s like he supported me going to traditional Native dances or potlucks, or doing traditional Native things like fishing or berry-picking, he was on board. But when he came to my identity, if I’d known it when I was younger it would have helped me out so much more.

Toini Alatervo

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


Excerpted from The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir

By Ernestine Hayes

Summer Days in Juneau

Summer days in Juneau were sweeter when I was a girl, the breezes more gentle, the sun’s rays warmer, the laughter more spontaneous, the possible future imprecise but somehow bright. The distinctions that divided me from other children—wrinkled dirty clothes, absence of family at schooltime celebrations, unclean fingernails and dirty hands, no doubt a salty, unwashed smell—had eased upon my mother’s return from her long tubercular stay in the hospital, and the separation from my classmates that would arrive with puberty was still no more than a wistfully approaching shadow. 34

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

At that in-between age, anyone I met on my sum-

mer-day wanderings might become a one-day friend. Anyone might join me for a rambling day of hiking up Mt. Roberts, wading down Gold Creek, fishing off the city dock. So it was that morning I met two or three classmates, not quite strangers, not at all friends, white kids who lived in neighborhoods I didn’t know, who wore clothes that were purchased from places other than the mail-order catalogs my mother and I so eagerly anticipated, who attended churches where their parents—mothers and fathers praying together at elegant polished pews, walking hand in arm from dusted doorstep to reserved parking place, living together in veiled discontent and virtuous disapproval—or was that simply what I’d already learned to tell myself in order to construct solace in an unconsoling world—gave thanks to a just god who had arranged their success and guaranteed their continued privilege and that of their blessed children, in whom they were all so well pleased. After some hellos, we decided to walk over to the docks to try out the new fishing pole one of them had just been given by his father. I promised to take a picture with my mother’s Kodak, which she had lovingly consigned to me for the summer. The experience of fishing off the docks was always marred for me by the sight of the struggling gasping creature, eyes bugged, delirious, terrified, bloody hook pulling at its thin lip, fighting with all the might of its soon-to-be succulent flesh for the freedom of the green water lapping the slimy barnacle-covered pilings beneath our feet. My own fishing escapades had mainly been limited to hunting for alreadysevered halibut heads outside the loud wide doors of the cold storage which in a year or two would burst into a fire so large it woke the whole town, including my mother, who would walk me by the hand to witness the extraordinary sight of high flames lighting the unstarred darkness. Our chatter was that of children, the excitement of a nibble now and then neither fulfilled nor defeated by success or by failure. It was enough to be alive. I sensed the possibilities contained in friendship with these extraordinary children, the promise of entry, a relief from freedom, the security of belonging. Along with their friendship might come comfort, might come knowledge, might come understanding. Along with their friendship might come acceptance. I might be included. I might belong. The blond-haired boy began to snigger. “Look at that drunk Indian carrying that fish. Let’s get out of here.” He pointed southward down the dock and began to wind in his line. I followed his eyes in the direction of his pointing finger to see an old man in a greasy wool jacket, dark fisherman’s knit cap covering his head, a fresh halibut glistening from a length of twine wrapped around his fist. I squinted. “That’s my grandfather,” I announced to the boy and his fidgety, giggling companions. Everyone tried to be quiet as my grandfather walked toward us. The other children, their derision ill-concealed by poor attempts to cover their snorts of laughter, took hesitant steps backward as my grandfather neared. Finally we all stood too close to one another, within the distance of a man’s height, his reach, his life, the white children I’d dared to

imagine as my friends staging their retreat behind me, ready to dash for the safety of another world, my grandfather in front of me, offering a whiskered smile, saluting me with the heavy flatfish he proudly held up for my regard and admiration, I at the torn seam of two worlds, dreams faded like dappling sunlight, the only choice no choice at all, to embrace the life that had been designed for me no less than the lives that had been designed by these children’s parents for us all, to give back the proud smile my grandfather offered, to know that despite the fish slime, despite the days-old whiskers, despite the headache and lost fingers and sharp grief, here was a man who understood what it meant to be proud. I took his picture and gave him a hug. I admired the salt-fresh fish. We both knew he would sell it to some lucky cook and would use the money to buy more wine. We both knew it would take far more than a sunny afternoon for me to make friends of those soft pink, privileged children. We both knew that those children’s fathers, though they ran the town and ran the schools and ran the courts and ran our lives, would never possess the courage that my grandfather showed every day by simply waking up and going on. We both knew that even though halibut cheeks were my mother’s favorite summer meal and even though there was no chance that we might fry one up tonight, my grandfather loved me as much as any grandfather had ever loved his wild unreliable unpredictable grandchild. The next time I saw those children, as we passed each other in the halls of the school designed to exalt them, we didn’t speak. There are moments that keep themselves in our

memories: unexpected flashpoints of meaning we don’t even recognize until the years, loves, worries have tempered the cloudy chatter of everyday concerns and have left only the brightest flashes: permanent, unchanging images that will most conspicuously blaze at that final, brilliant moment when our lives are said to pass before our dimming eyes. Some speak of memories of fond, beloved days, of green lawns and blue skies, of smiling brides and laughing children, of the most tender instances of feeling loved, the most cherished moments of feeling protected, the most comforting interludes of feeling safe. Some speak of memories of daring times, of reaching for the rope of survival swinging above the abyss and catching it, gripping it, holding on for what became the rest of one’s dear life. Others speak of moments that haunt and weep and cringe, that remind us always that we are and always will be victims of the ever-present past, that we are and always will be frightened of the dark, or of being alone, or, most frightening of all, of again being hunted by the unnamed blurred face that tracks us from dream to every dream and through each sweaty waking moment until we take our last never-ending breath. The moments that have stayed with me comfort as well as haunt, and for the most part their meaning has escaped me. Asked to formulate a list of significant moments, moments that changed my life, I would hesitate to include that seemingly unremarkable afternoon when my grandfather A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


approached me and those summer-day children on the Juneau docks. By then, I’d experienced times, images, moments, that had immediately and irrevocably clung to my thoughts, forcing my young mind to acknowledge even in its innocence that it had already begun to accumulate pictures of a confused, confusing life—not to make sense of them, not to sort, not to process, only to keep. And what to make of the flash of an image of myself as a girl no more than four or five years old, resting on my haunches under the wooden table in the old kitchen, which in my memory is lit by one bare bulb, indicating winter; during the summer’s long days my grandmother let the electricity be turned off until the end of cannery season, when, rich again by our own standards, she could pay off the electric company and once again count the days until winter, when winter’s long dark nights inevitably returned. The end of summer, with its extra cash, was also the time to plan for celebrations. The old-style potlatches had been forbidden and replaced by legal congregations in churches along the shoreline and in bars along South Franklin Street. When the bars closed or got too rowdy for the bartender’s taste, my grandmother, grandfather, and some of their friends would walk down Willoughby Avenue onto Village Street all the way to the edge of the village and come inside our old house, where sons and daughters would either be there waiting or they would not, where my uncles and aunts would either be home or would be gone, where I, only daughter of the oldest girl, I the youngest child, I the next generation, would be waiting there either hungry or not, but always curious, always watching, always ready to learn. My memory contains the movement of a chair tossed across the floor, its velocity broken by another chair behind which I huddle and watch. No voices narrate my memory, no sounds complete the image. Only the thought of a young girl peeking out from under the wooden table, hiding herself for her own safety. Only a young girl learning how to act. Only a girl learning who to be.

The mission of waging life calls for us to keep our

weapons sharp.

A Raven woman places a borrowed Shungukeidí button blanket on my shoulders. As I walk down the aisle, I catch the eye of my proud son and his children. After alumni and politicians present speeches, I approach the podium. As I introduce myself in the Lingít language, someone in the audience calls a response. Whoever it is, I understand that he is proud: proud not of me, perhaps not even of my clan, the Kaagwaantaan. The power of these words of introduction has made a man proud of himself. After the ceremony, I find the Raven woman and place money in her hand to restore balance between us. Balance between opposite sides, Eagle and Raven, replicates the balance of life. Although capitalism and the church


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

have changed old ceremonies and have left only form where once there was substance, this essential balance continues to be realized in simple, private acts. After I retrieved my mother’s ashes at the Fairbanks airport from a representative of what was then Alaska’s only crematorium, who took the solemn occasion to remark that he had never before been called to deliver ashes to the bereaved at the airport, that he usually simply mailed them by the reliable postal service; after running my mother’s ashes through some sort of scanner in those pre-9-11 days, the ashes showing as a heavy plastic bag of dense dark unidentifiable material that puzzled the clerk, to whom I had to say Those are my mother’s ashes; after I carried my mother’s ashes on my lap back to Juneau; after I called everywhere for a bentwood box, preferably one carved by someone from the Raven side, in which to place my mother’s ashes; after arranging an opportunity for those few people who remembered her from those long-lost village days to come see her smiling picture and the painted box in which her ashes now rested; after the few of us who were family walked to Evergreen Cemetery; after my mother’s brother Eugene and my mother’s grandchildren carrying in their arms her great-grandchildren, some of us with partners to support us in our grief, had assembled at the family plot, it fell to me to place her ashes in that bentwood box into the ground and cover my mother with the rich dirt in which her mother and her grandmother and two of her brothers rested, and I could not. A Raven held his bereaved opposites in his thoughts and offered comfort. As Eagles watched, a Raven covered their beloved sister, their cherished grandmother, my precious mother, with that rich dirt. A Raven heard my cry song, he opened the ground for her ashes, he carried my loved one to her grave. Gunalchéesh. More than mosses creep about on one patch of comforting earth. Voles scurry. Red squirrels scold. Deer mice listen. Budworms are on the hunt. Sawflies wander, spiders spin. A snail keeps away from a hopping jay. So does his neighbor, the worm. They climb through sweet-scented stalks of violet and blushing petals of dogwood, dodging beetles and falling leaves. Mother-care plant gets ready to be made into fragrant tea. Do you smell the fragrance of berry bushes in the spring, the fragrance of summer’s wet soil, the fragrance of fall sockeye becoming older in the creek? Everything on our fragrant scrap of earth knows when the time is right to make its move. Everything counsels us to recognize when the time is ripe to move, and then to move. Do everything in its order when all is ready. When all is ready, do not delay. When the time presents itself, move fast like the north wind in winter. When the natural order is clear, be impenetrable like the densest summer forest. When the time has come to make your move, be relentless like the river in the spring when the glacier is thawing and the snow is melting and the clouds are backed up against the rainshadow and pouring out their heavy water so they can lift

Photo courtesy of Ernestine Hayes

themselves over the mountains in their own good time. Take each certain step in its proper order. Do not allow yourself to hesitate. Take Raven. When it was time to be born, he was born. After he had listened, after he had studied his circumstances, when it was time for him to be born, Raven was born. He did not allow himself to hesitate. These are the steps that Raven took to achieve his goal. More than leaves fall upon this softened scrap of earth. Some say that deaths come when leaves fall, but life falls onto the ground as well. All good things fall to the ground in their natural order. The drop of water from the leaf, the leaf itself, the limb, the branch, the tree. The comfortable cabin. The resolute woman, the mother, the child. Can you taste the life that is hidden and buried and cries and covers and falls? Everything upon our scrap of earth is life itself. Everything teaches that we do our best when we are in agreement with our conditions. Avail yourself of helpful circumstances. When circumstances have combined to offer you a position beyond defeat, occupy it decisively. After you are safe, find an even more advantageous place to improve your position. Victory is kind to the ones who seek their victory with careful calculations. Take Raven. He pressed his grandfather for each box, for each box, for each box. When his position led him to each new plaything with which to improve his situation, he took advantage of his circumstance. With careful calculation, Raven obtained the final prize and gave us daylight. From that gift, the morning light now reveals a scrap of earth out of which come the taste of berries, the smell of cedar, the raven’s cry. Into that scrap of earth one resolute woman will gladly return. I gú.áax x’wán. We take heart. The mission of waging life calls for us to keep our weapons sharp. Although few now go into daily battle with swords drawn and bayonets set, we must all meet life as it unfolds before us, with our qualities sharpened or dull, our abilities at the ready or unprepared, our skills razor-like or blunted. No matter if we are not ready, no matter if we feel the need for another moment, another day, another long while for our planning. Life will come at us when the time for the event has arrived. Even though we can’t unfailingly predict our next challenge, we can help to make ourselves as ready as possible by keeping our weapons sharp. All wise people, all who survive, all living things, are governed by this advice. Every good thing from which we learn does not fail to recommend this rule. Take Raven. At that time when he needed to find entry but instead was confronted by an old man’s invincible house, he didn’t approach the unassailable structure with a dull adze and unsharpened knife. No. He sharpened his skills. He made the blade of his calculations as keen and as quick as the cutting edge of the deadliest dagger. Or perhaps—as, after all, he was Raven—the knife after which he modeled the sharpness of his cunning had been fashioned from jade. Or he may have arrived at the house come recently from a visit to the neighbors and cousins and in-laws not far from the land over which he had recently flown, spitting water, and over which he would soon fly again, chasing stars, chasing

the moon, chasing the sun, and perhaps he was carrying with him the vision of a blade of sharpest black slate. No matter. We may never truly know, until perhaps the knowledge is given to an artist, to a totem carver, to a weaver, to a daggermaker, to a painter, to a storyteller, and we will read knowledge from that craftsperson’s vision. In the meantime, we can only be certain that whatever the material from which Raven fashioned his strategy, he kept his cunning sharp and did not allow his weapons to become dull. And we can take heart from his example. When his exploits had brought him as far as they could go, when his deceptions were finally in plain sight, when his shrewdness had been all but spent, nevertheless he was still quick to make his move. His weapons had remained sharp, his resourcefulness had not been dulled. With the sharp blade of his lively inclinations, he squeezed himself through the smokehole and emerged to give light to the world. But starlight and moonlight and daylight are not the only gifts that Raven gave to the world, and gripping in his beak the summer-berry-red light of day was not the only time that, after calculated contractions, he had thrust himself through a smokehole and brought more life to the world. With cunning and trickery, he had once done the same with fresh water, had fooled another old man, had fully prepared for that old exaltation and shame, whereupon that old man had turned Raven’s feathers from brilliant expectant white to breathtaking black. By the sharpness of his cunning, Raven escaped, and from his beak there drifted and streamed rivers and lakes and abundant waterfalls. Raven teaches that we can be both devious and practical at the same time. His teachings are open lessons, for we suspect that the way to living an open life cannot be examined by a closed mind. Raven’s teachings are open, so it is difficult for us to comment upon them aloud. They cannot easily be named. Alaska Humanities Forum Board member Ernestine Hayes was named Alaska State Writer Laureate in January. The Tao of Raven is her latest book. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


War STOrieS


Writer and combat veteran Brian Castner on war and the life that follows.


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

Brian Castner is a journalist and war memoirist, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer and military contractor who served as a bomb squad commander in Iraq on two of his three combat tours. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, which examines his experiences in war alongside the challenges of coming home and being a “normal” husband and father. He also wrote All the Ways We Kill and Die: An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer, about his friend and fellow EOD technician, Matt Schwartz. Castner visited Anchorage and Juneau in March as part of the Alaska Humanities

Brian Castner served two combat tours in Iraq.

Photo courtesy of Brian Castner

One of the stated goals of the Duty Bound initiative is “to bridge the military-civilian divide.” Tell me about the military-civilian divide as you see it, and why it’s important to address it.

I think it’s important to recognize because reality is always important to face head on, instead of how we wish things were. I think it’s important to see them as they are. I think this is reality: We’ve been fighting a war for fifteen years, but it’s very easy for America in general to turn away from that and to watch reality TV or go shopping or for people just pay attention to their lives. And I don’t begrudge them that, except it’s never been easier to just tune it out. You’re tuning it out but you’re paying for it, your taxes as a citizen are paying for it. I think it’s important as a citizen to know what’s being done in in your name. Well, how do we bridge that divide? There are many ways to do it but I think art and writing is a pretty good one. I didn’t write my memoir or any of my books or nonfiction that I’ve done, I never intended it for a purely military audience. When I teach workshops, I prefer not to do it with only veterans. I think they’re far more effective when you have a mixture of veterans and non-veterans. For the workshop in Juneau, people can find themselves in extreme situations, and I guess some of the tenets of war writing are applicable to losing your Ski Doo over a pond or being out on a hunt that goes wrong or all sorts of other things. There are lots of experiences you can have out on the land in Alaska where a lot of the tools of war writing would be effective for other kinds of writing. War is just something that human beings do. I think that anybody should be able to write about it, and so if a guy like you, that’s not a veteran, is writing about war, I think that’s a good thing to help bridge. And I’m a veteran, but I’d like to be able to write about things other than war.

I don’t think the war made me a writer, but the war gave me something worth writing about.

Talk about transitioning from the Air Force and military contracting work to writing the book, and becoming a full-time writer.

Forum’s Duty Bound initiative, as part of a joint project between AKHF and 49 Writers called Danger Close: Alaska. The project, spearheaded by local writer Matthew Komatsu, seeks to bridge the military-civilian divide by uniting veterans and civilians in the task of producing high-quality, warthemed writing. On Thursday, March 9, Castner joined Alaska author Don Rearden in a discussion in Anchorage moderated by Komatsu. On Friday, March 10, Castner did a reading and talk in Juneau. The following day he led a six-hour war writing workshop, also in Juneau. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. —Brendan Joel Kelley

In high school I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think that that was a job that adults did. I thought adults got [real] jobs. So I didn’t really seriously pursue it. I was always a big reader and I had written for myself, but I got an engineering bachelor’s degree, I went into the military; that tends to dominate your thinking. I fought a war. You’re just not thinking about writing, or at least I wasn’t; I was just thinking about the war. It [writing] really took having this crazy feeling—I still don’t really have a better word for it, the mixture of anxiety and grief and panic, and traumatic brain injury stuff that I was dealing with, that whole mess combined. Originally it was my shrink who said, “Well, maybe you should write down what’s happening to you,” and pretty quickly I said, “You know what, maybe this is a story that other people would want to read.” So I don’t think the war made me a writer, but the war gave me something worth writing about; that’s how I’ve come to think of it. The stakes were high enough. But having said that, because I’ve now taught a number of workshops like I’m going to be doing in Alaska, there’s writing for yourself because it’s a A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17


catharsis or it’s helpful and that’s therapeutic and healing and that’s wonderful. And then there’s writing for an audience which is narrative and storytelling and something that people would want to read. And I was very clear from the very, very beginning when I started writing this book that I wanted to write a book; I wanted to produce something that would attract readers. So you didn’t journal or anything when you were overseas?

When I got home, the problem was I wanted to tell everybody about the war, and I had no filter, which is how I ended up telling car bomb stories at my sister’s wedding

I did. Both of my grandfathers were in World War II and one of them kept a little journal in Germany, and I knew that that existed, and I felt like... A lot of what I did joining the military at all and then a lot of the decisions I made were really based on family, like living up to a family tradition, and I knew how valuable that journal was for our family, that my grandfather had kept. I had sons already by the time I was in Iraq, a couple of them, so I wanted to produce an artifact for them. But honestly, when I was in theater in Iraq, I was so exhausted that most of my journal entries are things like, “too tired to write today.” I kept a very bad journal, and I only looked at that journal when I was done with the manuscript of the book, and there was only one scene that I forgot about and I needed to extract from the journal and put in the book. I think it’s the most important scene in the book, actually. We’re driving down the highway, it’s late, it’s the middle of the night, it’s like three A.M. We’re coming back from a call. There’s a dust storm blowing, so we’re driving at like ten miles an hour, where we can just see the red taillights ahead of us. In the middle of the dust storm, a pigeon comes and lands on our truck, on the front grille of the truck, and rides with us. It was one of those things that only happens in a war, I swear.

Is it easier to write about combat than to talk about it?

I think so. I think it’s easier to write about stuff than talk about it generally, but I think it’s definitely true about combat. There’s a reason our oldest human stories are war stories, and I’m talking about Gilgamesh, like the oldest stories we have. There’s a reason they’re war stories, and it’s because there is so much narrative baked into the war, and any soldier’s story. I think in some ways, yeah, war might be hard to get right, but it’s easy to do. I think it is also easier from an emotional standpoint to write it down. The war, unless you’re with your buddies and you’ve had a few beers, it usually doesn’t come out so well. When I got home, the problem was I wanted to tell everybody about the war, and I had no filter, which is how I ended up telling car bomb stories at my sister’s wedding. Just no filter and no sense of what was appropriate, and so you learn really quickly that nobody wants to hear it, and then it becomes hard to talk about. What I’ve come to realize is, The Long Walk was published five years ago now, and I’ve probably talked more about the war with those people [at public events] than I have with my own children.


T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

The Long Walk

Excerpt from The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows by Brian Castner. The Long Walk. Armor on, girded with breastplate and helm and leggings and collar. Eighty pounds of mailed Kevlar. No one can put on the bomb suit alone; your brother has to dress you, overalls pulled up, massive jacket tucked, earnest in his careful thoroughness. One last check, face shield down, and then into the breach alone. There is no more direct confrontation of wills between bomber and EOD technician than the Long Walk. Donning the suit, leaving behind rifle and security, to outwit your opponent nose to nose. The lonely seeking of hidden danger. To ensure no more hazards lie in wait to snatch the next soldier to pass that way, the next EOD brother or sister, the next local shopkeeper or taxi driver or child playing in a garbageladen sewer. No one takes the Long Walk lightly. Only after every other option is extinguished. Only after robots fail and recourses dwindle. The last choice. Always. But when the choice comes, when the knife’s edge between folly and reason finally tips, training affords a decisiveness to guide your higher purpose. Castleman went so Keener didn’t have to. So Mengershausen didn’t have to. So I didn’t have to. You take the Long Walk for your brother’s wife, your brother’s children, and their children, and the line unborn. No greater love does one brother have for another than to take the Long Walk.

The book, again, is in some way like a family artifact. If I never found a publisher, what I told myself was, I’ll print out one copy and put it on the shelf and give it to my kids. I guess I still kind of think that way would be easier. I’d rather not explain to them what I did in Iraq. I’d rather they just read the book. Tell us the difference between fairytales and war stories; since The Long Walk was published you’ve written that you couldn’t have gone running with your friend Ricky as much as you’d recounted in the book.

The only difference between a war story and a fairytale is “Once upon a time” and “No shit, there I was...” There’s the war story with your buddies and then there’s the nonfiction craft of it, where you are trying to get it exactly... I was trying to get it exactly right, and I do have two areas in the book where I conflated things, where I moved something from one IED incident and I put it on another. It still bothers me. I think it’s totally legitimate literary license from an objective point of view, but I was really trying. There’s always a struggle in nonfiction to get it right, and I feel like the war is constantly conspiring against that, just the kind of crazy shit that happens. You have a traumatic brain injury from your proximity to so many explosions, and memory lapses as a result. How do you deal with those when you’re writing a memoir?

The memory lapses were frustrating, are frustrating, but figuring out how to be the kind of person with memory lapses was in some ways worse than the memory lapses themselves. I was fortunate, I never had the short-term memory issues, but the problem with losing the long-term stuff is, once you rip that neuron, you’ve ripped that neuron, and you can regrow, your brain is constantly healing, but memories are just not one of those things that comes back. I still don’t remember and I never will remember the night I asked my wife to marry me. I don’t remember that night, but it was worse being the kind of person who forgot all this stuff. Like how do I deal with my wife? How does she deal with me, knowing that I don’t remember these kinds of things? I’ve given up the frustration of, the actual memory is a loss but it’s lost. You feel a bit unmoored. What kind of person am I? And eventually my wife has stopped asking things like, “well do you remember this?” because she knows the answer. There’s a philosopher, Augustine, who said that there is no past and future, there is just the present, and how we think about the past in the present, and how we think about the future in the present. And I had to change how I thought about the past in the present, that’s the challenge. Let’s talk about survivor guilt, and how it manifests when you’re writing about your experiences in war.

For a long time I claimed I didn’t have survivor’s guilt, and then I eventually realized that my entire second book, All the Ways We Kill and Die, was nothing but survivor’s guilt. And I realized that in the later edits, and was able to edit out a lot of the guilt, so it became far more readable. Quite honestly I always

Castner visited Alaska in March to conduct readings, talks, and a writing workshop as part of the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Duty Bound initiative. Photo courtesy Brian Castner

thought survivor’s guilt was asking things like whether things happen for a reason, and why I am still alive, why are my friends dead? That question never made sense to me and it still doesn’t make sense to me, because if I was supposed to live for a reason then they should have died for a reason and that’s just not the kind of world I want to live in. I think where the survivor’s guilt manifested itself for me was, like surviving the war was winning enough, but then I didn’t just win by surviving the war. I wrote a book and fulfilled a dream of mine by writing a book, and I was fortunate that the book was successful. Then suddenly the gap between me and my dead friends, that chasm, was just getting wider and wider and wider. It got to be just all too much, that I would not just be living, but be successful at this thing that I had dreamed of. What that drove me to do was, I wanted to tell these stories of my buddies that died, and one of them specifically. All the Ways We Kill and Die is really about Matt Schwartz, who died just as I had finished The Long Walk. It wasn’t even published, and if he had died earlier I probably would have put his stuff in The Long Walk and been done with it. But because he died after, I felt compelled to write an entire other book about it. That book ended up being about lots of things, not just Matt, but the original impetus was saying, “Why are you reading about me, you should be reading about this other guy,” and I wanted to write his story. Brendan Joel Kelley is the former editor of the Anchorage Press. This is his first article for FORUM. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 17




pplying lessons learned through community-based, small group projects is a core component and enduring legacy of Leadership Anchorage, the Alaska Humanities Forum’s leadership development program. This year marks the second of a multi-year commitment to have all LA projects support the goals of the Municipality of Anchorage’s Welcoming Anchorage initiative: building a stronger community through supporting and celebrating equity and inclusion. Members of the current LA cohort, the program’s twentieth, have six projects underway: Anchorage Youth Skate

Anchorage is a winter city and every youth should have the opportunity to participate in outdoor winter recreation. The LA project team is helping Anchorage Skate Club identify which Title 1 elementary schools are the right fit for expanding their afterschool Skate Club program. Aurora Mentoring Program

Mentoring consistently comes up as one of the ways to share knowledge between generations and between cultures. The YWCA of Alaska has asked their LA project team to pilot a flash mentoring system using online interaction such as Google Hangouts. Women of Achievement and Athena Award alumnae have stepped up as volunteer mentors. Community Engagement Mapping in Spenard

Residents care a lot about what happens in their neighborhoods, but often their voices aren’t heard at the Community Council meetings or by municipal departments collecting survey data. This project teams up two champions, Spenard Community Council and MOA Public Transportation, to map how people in Spenard receive information about important community topics if they don’t attend community council meetings or answer surveys.


Photo by Seanna O’Sullivan

LA 20 Launches Community Projects William Kozloff exhibited paintings at the Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities in January. He will show new work at the Forum in March.

Second Friday Schedule Revised There have been a few changes

to the Alaska Humanities Forum’s schedule of monthly visual art exhibits and corresponding Second Friday opening events since the publication of the Fall 2016 issue of Forum. All exhibits and receptions with open dialogues take place in the lobby gallery at the Alaska Humanities Forum, 161 E. 1st Ave., Door 15, Anchorage. Here’s the current schedule for the coming months:

Kitchen Table Talks

The Alaska Food Policy Council has been hard at work improving the food security for communities across our state. The council could do its work even better if it were hearing from refugee and other client populations about what is important to them. The Kitchen Table talks are an effort to have informal conversations with residents to inform future work and identify potential board members. Leadership Storytelling

Story Works Alaska cultivates personal narrative storytelling in high school youth as a practice to build resilience. It seeks to nurture a broader volunteer base to reflect the ethnic diversity of the kids in our schools. Leadership Anchorage is celebrating 20 years of cultivating community leaders to make our city stronger. The LA project team is working with both groups to host a leadership storytelling event on May 16, 2017.

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

MARCH “No One Will Find Us,” paintings by William Kozloff. Reception and dialogue: Fri., March 10. APRIL “A Few of My Favorite Things,” mixed media work by Don Decker. Reception and dialogue, Fri., April 14. MAY “Reviving Native Alaskan Local Clay Use,” mixed media works by Edwin R. Mighell. Reception and dialogue, Fri., May 12. JUNE-AUGUST: “Fishing the River,”

mixed media boxes and artist books by Margo Klass and Frank Soos. Reception and dialogue: Fri., June 9.

Multi-Cultural Web Portal

It’s easy to say that that we should all develop relationships with people whose lives are different from our own. But it can hard to do. One way is to try to understand someone else’s life through their own experiences. Watch a documentary, read a book that they read in their childhood, read the newspaper from their culture, listen to what matters to them. But how does one find those resources? One of the LA project teams is developing a new web portal that will be hosted by YWCA of Alaska to provide anyone the opportunity to learn more about fellow Alaskans from different walks of life. To learn more about Leadership Anchorage, please visit To suggest ideas for the LA20 project teams or concepts for next year’s projects, please Leadership Programs Coordinator Jennifer Howell at


“Andrew Miller, 2016” from Alaska Humanities Forum grantee Jenny Irene Miller’s portraiture series Continuous. See story page 26.

Photo courtesy Susan Cloe

Photo courtesy Brian Castner

Photo by James Barker

Photo by Charles Tice

john cloe: a scholar and a gentleman

WAR STORIES: Writer and combat veteran Brian Castner

Remembering Agayuliyararput: THE MASKS CAME HOME

100STONE: Sarah Davies’ art launches a new forum initiative


161 East First Avenue, Door 15 Anchorage, AK 99501

(907) 272-5341



To keep receiving Forum magazine,

please see page 19.

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.