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About Ernestine Hayes
When I was fifteen years old, my mother and I moved to California, where I spent twenty-five long years. I didn't come back home, not even once, although I thought about it every day. Finally, when I turned forty, I said to myself, "Let me go home or let me die trying to get there." It took me eight months to get from San Francisco to Ketchikan, living in my car, standing in food lines, and sleeping in shelters. I finally made it back home two years later.
After I came back home, I enrolled at the University of Southeast and received an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska at Anchorage. For most of those summers, I worked my way through college on the waters of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska. I now teach creative writing, composition, and Alaska literature at the UAS Juneau campus. Juneau is my home, and I know I love it more than if I'd never left.
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Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social and spiritual journeys, this enchanting memoir traces the author’s life from her difficult childhood growing up in the Tlingit community, through her adulthood, during which she lived for some time in Seattle and San Francisco, and eventually to her return home. Neither fully Native American nor Euro-American, Hayes encounters a unique sense of alienation from both her Native community and the dominant culture. We witness her struggles alongside other Tlingit men and women—many of whom never left their Native community but wrestle with their own challenges, including unemployment, prejudice, alcoholism, and poverty.
The author’s personal journey, the symbolic stories of contemporary Natives, and the tales and legends that have circulated among the Tlingit people for centuries are all woven together, making Blonde Indian much more than the story of one woman’s life. Filled with anecdotes, descriptions, and histories that are unique to the Tlingit community, this book is a document of cultural heritage, a tribute to the Alaskan landscape, and a moving testament to how going back—in nature and in life—allows movement forward.
In her first book, Blonde Indian, Ernestine Hayes powerfully recounted the story of returning to Juneau and to her Tlingit home after many years of wandering. The Tao of Raven takes up the next and, in some ways, less explored question: once the exile returns, then what?
Using the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight (and relating it to Sun Tzu’s equally timeless Art of War) to deepen her narration and reflection, Hayes expresses an ongoing frustration and anger at the obstacles and prejudices still facing Alaska Natives in their own land, but also recounts her own story of attending and completing college in her fifties and becoming a professor and a writer. Hayes lyrically weaves together strands of memoir, contemplation, and fiction to articulate an Indigenous worldview in which all things are connected, in which intergenerational trauma creates many hardships but transformation is still possible. Now a grandmother and thinking very much of the generations who will come after her, Hayes speaks for herself but also has powerful things to say about the resilience and complications of her Native community.