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Vo l . 6 N o . 2 you were walking here. We’ve been waiting and waiting. Come inside.” We followed him up an incline to the Home and climbed wide wood steps to the large porch. Inside the building, Mr. Henkelman led us to a cozy office opposite the stairway to the children’s sleeping quarters on the second floor. His wife served us tea with warm bread and butter -- not so different from milk and honey after all. They explained that the Home had existed since the early ‘20s, originally as an orphanage for Native children whose families died of TB and flu epidemics. Now the Home Frozen Leaf #1 also served children who were wards of the state due to bad homes or problem behaviors -- like the three children Judge Guinn wanted me to bring to this place. There was a classroom for first grade through eighth. High school age children moved on to one of the BIA boarding schools. Many of the books we saw in the surrounding bookshelves had religious titles. We learned the children ice fished with the adults in winter and helped in the large vegetable garden in summer as well as participating in fish camps. This meant that children at the Home did the same things they’d be doing if they’d remained with their families in villages. It was the custom for villagers to spend summers in fish camps, catching, drying and smoking fish that would be the staple of their diets through the next long winter. Most Yup’ik people I would come to know loved fish camp; they adored fishing, being on the water and staying outside in summer days of almost 24 hours of light. Though the Henkelmans were white and represented a German-Moravian version of conservative Protestant Christianity, the Home’s staff was mostly local Yup’ik people. The children wouldn’t lose links to their own language and culture as much as they would in white foster homes in cities. When we went back outside, children swarmed to stare at the crazy gussaqs stupid enough to walk on thin ice. Mr. and Mrs. Henkelman stood close by. The children, all Yup’ik Eskimos with full cheeks, thick black hair and high energy, talked at once. “Why you go on bad ice?” “Next time take plane! We got landing strip.” Fingers

33 pointed. “You come again soon?” In fact, I would return many times. Mr. and Mrs. Henkelman allowed them time with us before rounding them up with quiet instructions. The gentle way they addressed the children told me they were down to earth and kind. The Home had rules and discipline, it had to with 20 to 40 kids living there, but the Henkelmans conveyed caring and warmth instead of the severe authoritarianism I’d expected. Waving goodbye, Dinsmore and I approached the river, armed with instructions from the Henkelmans on identifying dangerous parts of the ice and how not to get lost on the way Robert Bharda back. “We’ll radio Mrs. Benton,” Mr. Henkelman assured us. “She’ll have people watch for you.” The return hike is lost to memory, though I can still hear the children and fisherman laughing and shouting when we stepped back out on the ice. In a letter to my mother shortly afterwards, I described this adventure, ending with: When we arrived back in Bethel the next day, the whole town knew about it--the teacher in the village had radioed it to the BIA, so all 54 villages and Bethel knew that 2 crazy social workers had crossed the ice before it was thick.   I endured taunts and scolding for weeks, but at least I’d discovered that the Henkelmans were good people. I would obey Judge Guinn’s demand to place the Fox children in the Children’s Home. But the ongoing teasing for walking the ice compounded my shame over the Gilbert case. The local public health nurse berated me for not including her in my visit to Daniel Gilbert: “Don’t you know there could be all kinds of reasons he’s not thriving? He could have a heart defect, or maybe they only give him milk when he needs other food.” And the State Trooper refused to force the Gilberts to bring Daniel to the hospital. Though I was learning my new job and its world as fast as I could, my stumbles as a novice child welfare worker hadn’t ended.    I was still walking on thin ice.

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
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