Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Raising Ourselves: A Gwich'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River, by Velma Wallis

Velma Wallis' mother was not planning to have children, because she knew what the life of an Alaskan mother looked like. She ended up having 14 of them, bowing out of motherhood well before they were old enough to do without her.

This is a heartbreaking story of a culture in transition. Fort Yukon in the 60's is probably like a lot of native towns in that era. Modernity has brought white bread and alcohol, and nothing a whole lot more useful. Velma loses her parents and most of her siblings to the bottle. At 13, she and her brother take over the household, caring for their 4 younger siblings while their mother battles alcoholism. At 15, she moves out to the family land (by herself) to live by trapping, as her ancestors did. I am in awe of what she went through by the time she hit voting age.

My overall impression is of a family united by love, but ravaged by addiction and poverty. The book could use some further editing, and is not what you'd call finely wrought. I was riveted, though, by this view into the life of an American girl not so far from my own age, but a world apart in terms of culture and opportunity. A good book for when you're feeling whiney - you will definitely get over yourself..


  1. I'll see if the library has it. Thanks for the review!