Event was part of ‘Evenings at Egan’ lecture series
By MARK D. MILLER
American Book Award recipient Ernestine Hayes challenged her audience at the University of Alaska Southeast’s “Evenings at Egan” lecture Friday night to think critically about Tlingit history and its relationship with contemporary Southeast Alaska in her lecture, “What shall we do with our histories?”
Hayes, an assistant professor of English at UAS, received the American Book Award in 2007 for her semifictional memoir, “Blonde Indian.” She has given this particular lecture for the Association for Literature and the Environment Conference and the International Polar Year conference.
At the beginning of her lecture, Hayes detailed the extent to which Tlingit culture has been supplanted by Western civilization, as well as the way that Lingit Aani, or “Tlingit Country,” sustained the Native people of what is now Southeast Alaska for millennia prior to European contact.
“We do well to remind ourselves that had the colonial invasion not taken place, Alaska Native people would still be living in the 21st century,” Hayes contended. “Our lives would still be modern. Paved roads, airports and electricity would still occur here in Lingit Aani. Some things would be different, of course. We would be speaking our own language. We would be living in houses of our own design. We would not be devastated by incarceration, alcoholism, violence, poverty. Our children would be healthy.”
Although, as Hayes noted, many historians describe the era before Europeans made contact with Native Americans as “prehistory,” she said much is known about the history of Lingit Aani via oral tradition.
“It is wise to learn about the original people of what is now this part of Alaska from a less Eurocentric perspective,” Hayes said.