Cold River Spirits

Jan Harper Haines, Author, Jan Harper-Haines, Author
Jan Harper Haines, Author, Jan Harper-Haines, Author Epicenter Press $19.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-945397-85-4
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Opening this intriguing but insular memoir with a crucial memory from her early childhood in Alaska, Harper-Haines recalls: ""I came home one day with the announcement, `I'm not going to play with those kids--they're indians!'"" In addition to eliciting a stern talking-to from her father, her remark also prompted him to reveal that she was, in fact, half-Indian. What follows is the history of her family and their heritage, in which Harper-Haines focuses most intently on her mother, Flora Jane Harper, who was Athabascan and Irish, and her grandmother, who raised a family in the brutally remote wilderness of the Yukon. Although the ""shortage of women in Alaska"" in the early 1900s often made it a ""necessity"" for white men to marry Native Americans, racial prejudice kept communities somewhat segregated. Forced to deal with being called ""squaw and savage"" by some of her classmates, Flora Jane Harper worked her way with difficulty through the University of Alaska--the first Native Alaskan to do so. Covering broad historical ground, Harper-Haines adopts a kind of all-knowing narration, in which she articulates the thoughts of her ancestors and recounts their conversations, making this work of creative nonfiction feel more like a fictional journal than a memoir, as if the book were written to commune with the figures who appear on its pages rather than for a wider audience. Photos. (Dec.)
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