Velma Wallis was born of the Athabaskan people in a small village in remote Alaska. She grew up in the traditional way and heard the oral history of her tribe and others in the region through her mother. She’s documented two of those through Two Old Women and Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun.
Two Old Women tells of two elders who had lost their usefulness, often falling into complaining in the face of decline. As tradition holds, the duty of providing for them fell to their extended family and others of the tribe, which they did. But the tribe fell upon hard times. Food was almost nonexistent and some successive winters brutal. Finally, the chief made a decision, when the tribe departed in search for a more hospitable home, the two old women were left behind in favor of tribal survival. This meant they were leaving the elders to a certain death. Two Old Women discloses the internal conflict many of the tribe experienced and the process of the women as they faced a fate they did not choose, and the unexpected outcomes.
Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about a girl and boy, living in separate camps of the Gwich’in people. Neither fit in. At a young age, Bird Girl’s father had taught her to hunt and roam along with her brothers. Having tasted that freedom, she took no interest in the never-ending burden of women’s work or taking a husband. Finally pushed to fall in line, she chose to leave home to make her way on her own.
The boy Dagoo was told about The Land of the Sun somewhere to the south where the sun shone all the time, and it was warm, unlike the frozen ground where he lived. His elders said that some of their people had gone in search for this place but turned back, while others went on and never returned. Dagoo was compelled to wander, to explore what potentials may be had beyond the small confines of tribal expectations and limited grounds. After being given an ultimatum to conform, he left in search of The Land of the Sun.
Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about the need to belong, and the choices and consequences of rejecting what doesn’t fit.
Both books are about the meaning and pressures of tribal community and historical, territorial violence between tribes as well as first experiences with European intruders. Told in a straightforward manner, they are impactful eye openers that caused me to consider the choices I have taken in my own life.
Available on Amazon and some public libraries.