Friday, November 24, 2017

AICL's Best Books of 2017

I'm starting AICL's "Best Books of 2017" today--November 24--and will update it as we read other books published in 2017.

Please share this page with teachers, librarians, parents--anyone, really--who is interested in books about Native peoples. As we come across additional books published in 2017, we will add them to this list. If you know of ones we might want to consider, please let us know!


BY NATIVE WRITERS OR ILLUSTRATORS

Comics and Graphic Novels
  • Storm, Jen. (2017). Fire Starters. Highwater Press. Canada.
Board Books
  • Flett, Julie. (2017). Black Bear, Red Fox: Colours in Cree. Native Explore. Canada.
Picture Books
  • Campbell, Nicola. (2017). A Day with Yayah, illustrated by Julie Flett. Tradewind Books. Canada. 
  • Ortiz, Simon J. (2017). The People Shall Continue, illustrated by Sharol Graves. Lee and Low. U.S.
  • Smith, Monique Gray. (2017). You Hold Me Up, illustrated by Danielle Daniel. Orca. Canada.
  • Vandever, Daniel W. (2017). Fall in Line, Holden! Salina Books. U.S.
For Middle Grades
  • Tingle, Tim. (2017). "Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains." in Flying Lessons and Other Stories. Random House. U.S.
For High School 



BY WRITERS WHO ARE NOT NATIVE

Picture Books
For Middle Grades
  • Brown, Monica. (2017). Lova Levine and the Vacation Dream. Little Brown. U.S.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Not recommended: John Smelcer's KISKA

Published by Leapfrog Press, John Smelcer's Kiska was released in November of 2017.  I'll start by saying I do not recommend Kiska. Back in September when I received an advanced reader copy of Smelcer's book, I tweeted as I read it. Last week, Melissa S. Green sent me an in-depth review of his book. Rather than repeat what she said in her excellent review, I'm going to focus on a couple of things: the seal story and the dramatic character of Smelcer's story.

First, though some background.

My guess is that most people do not know that Native peoples of Alaska were removed from their villages during World War II. In fact, most people don't know much about the Indigenous people of Alaska.

As I began the background research to review Kiska, I wrote to colleagues and writers in Alaska to ask about the internment of the Aleut people. I learned that the preferred name for the people I was asking about is Unangan. One resource I was pointed to is The Alaska Native Reader (2009), edited by Maria Sháa Tláa Williams. Here's a paragraph (I highlighted the end of the last sentence (Kindle Locations 62-66):
The history of Alaska is often told from the perspective of outsiders and those who view the resources of Alaska as amazing treasures to exploit. There are stories of eighteenth-century Russian fur hunters, of the brave miners who came to Alaska in the late nineteenth century to discover gold, of the companies that developed salmon canneries, and, in the twentieth century, of the oil companies that worked together to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the engineering marvels of the twentieth century. These stories are often highlighted and even exalted, yet one must ask what was the impact on the indigenous people.
When I review a children's book, I consider impact. What will the content of a book do to Native children, particularly the children who are of the identity the characters are meant to be. Will it accurately reflect their people, past and present, and their experiences--good and bad? And, what will a book do to non-Native children? Will it give them reliable information about the people who are depicted in the book? The answers to those questions are why I do not recommend Kiska.


****

Let's start with the description (from Amazon):
Kiska’s home in the Aleutian Islands is a peaceful paradise until Japan invades in 1942. Soon after, a U.S. naval ship arrives to evacuate everyone in her village to an internment camp almost 2,000 miles away—where they are forgotten. Informed by true events, this is the story of a teenage girl who steps up when her people need a hero.
In chapter one, we meet Kiska as a grandmother who is telling her 13-year-old granddaughter what happened to her in 1942 when she was 13 years old. Kiska speaks to her granddaughter in a way that suggests that the granddaughter knows little, if anything, about being Aleut and nothing about 1942. Making the granddaughter ignorant makes it possible for the author (Smelcer) to write for a similarly ignorant audience of readers.

On page 16, for example, Kiska says that their word for kayak is baidarka. We can read that as her attempt to teach her granddaughter their language, but she only uses baidarka that one time. After that, Kiska uses kayak. If part of what Kiska/Smelcer are doing is to teach some Indigenous words using story, it would have been appropriate to use baidarka throughout, rather than revert to kayak.

Update, Nov 12, 6:00 AM--I shared this review on Facebook. There, I received an immediate comment that baidarka is a Russian word. That individual is correct. The Unangan word for kayak is iqyax. I consulted several sources, including Smelcer's Alutiiq Dictionary, published in 2011. On page 44, he writes that "the word baidarka is of Russian origin, while the Unangan (Aleut) word is Igyax." Why did Smelcer's character say baidarka is the Aleut word? He clearly knows otherwise. 

Right away in chapter one, the story moves from Kiska-the-grandma to Kiska-the-teen. There's one point where Kiska's uncle is skinning a seal. She pleads excitedly with him to tell her, again, "the story of the first seals" (p. 18). In his story, a beautiful young girl is of age to marry. Many of the men in the village want to marry her. One night a man goes into her room and "forced himself on her" (p. 18). Because it is dark, she doesn't know who it is. This happens several nights in a row. One night, she decides to scratch his face so she'll see, in the morning, who it is. It turns out to be her brother. "In her great shame" (p. 19) she throws herself in the sea and is transformed into the first female seal. Her brother, either because he loved her so much or because he was ashamed of himself, also jumps off the cliff and is transformed into the first male seal. "All seals thereafter came from the two of them" (p. 19).

Generally speaking, when Native people tell stories to children and teens, there is a purpose or context for the particular story they choose to tell. Native writers who incorporate Native stories into their books usually have a context for a character to tell that particular story. I read through these pages in Kiska several times and can't figure out why Kiska's uncle would have chosen to tell that story to her in the first place, and then why Kiska would ask for it again when her uncle is skinning a seal. It strikes me as an unusual story. It is about rape and incest, and the outcome of is the creation of all seals. Having seals is a good. But I don't understand how a good is the outcome of rape and incest. It doesn't make sense to me. What will readers come away with? I don't know. I do wonder, though, about the backstory for Kiska's uncle telling that particular story? What was he trying to teach her, and why?

In fact, Kiska wonders about that story, too. After her uncle tells her the story, Kiska thinks about how she's always been uncomfortable with the ending because it "seemed to me that the wicked brother got his desire to be with his sister." She'd heard another version, where the brother and sister become the first sea otters. What, she wonders, "was to be learned from such stories? That life is unfair? Our stories weren't like the fairy tales I heard at school with their tidy, happy endings" (p. 21).

True enough, Native stories aren't like English ones. They've often been misinterpreted by outsiders. As someone who says he's gathered stories from elders, it seems to me that Smelcer would take care in using them, especially when he's telling them (through his characters) to an audience that isn't Unangan.

Curious to see what I might learn about Aleut stories--and this one in particular--I started looking for it. In other tellings, the story is about sea otters who, once transformed, swim away from each other. Unangam Ungiikangin kayux Tunusangin • Unangam Uniikangis ama Tunuzangis • Aleut Tales and Narratives, has stories collected by Waldemar Jochelson in 1909 and 1910. Edited by Knut Bergsland and Moses L. Dirks, it was published in 1990 by the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Story #42 is "Aatluung." Story #58 is similar. There's a brief note that the stories are similar to others meant to teach that incest is unacceptable.

In #42, Aatluung's sister is having her menstrual period alone in a separate house. When darkness came, a man would go in her house and "play with her [sexually]" (p. 325). Trying to figure out who he might be, she tore his parka one night and the next day, learned that the only person with a torn parka was her brother, Aatluung. That night, after the man played with her and was leaving, she thrust her knife in him from behind. The next morning, she heard weeping and learned that people were weeping for her brother, who was dead. She bathed, put on her parka, cut it open in front, and went over to where her brother was lying. "Get up to see the two [vulva] that prevented you from sleeping!" When she said that, his foot moved. She said it again and he got up, took hold of her and went out, to the shore. Their mother, crying, followed them but before she could reach them, they were in the sea. The brother became a male sea otter and dove toward east. The sister became a female sea otter and dove towards west. Their mother died, right there. There is no mention that these otters are the first sea otters.

The story the uncle tells in Kiska is the same one Smelcer shared on the website for the Missouri Folklore Society. There, he says he collected it in 1987 but doesn't give any details there as to what the story means.

So... I come back to Smelcer's reason for having it in chapter one of Kiska. Was it initially told to her because of her brother, Peter, who is a bit older than she is? Was she told that story to warn her not to let him have sex with her? I suppose that is possible but there's nothing in the story that even hints at that concern on anyone's part. Without any context, it seems odd to include it.

When chapter one ends, the Japanese have bombed Dutch Harbor Naval Base in Alaska.

In chapter two, a ship with an American flag anchors offshore. Three smaller boats are lowered, men climb into them and head for Kiska's village. Most everyone runs down to the beach to greet them. On shore, the men climb out. Some have rifles. One says that everyone must gather to hear what he has to say. Boys run up to the village to spread the word, and within a few minutes, everyone is at the beach. The man pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and reads aloud from it. Here's the first part (p. 28):
By order of the Secretary of the United States War Department and by the Secretary of the Interior...   
I tried to find this order in government archives and books, but have not yet found it. Writers have a lot of flexibility in fiction but I think items presented as official documents must be accurate. Classroom teachers assign historical fiction in their classrooms, especially when studying history, and they assume that what an author includes is accurate. Here's the next part:
... you are hereby ordered to abandon your village immediately and to be relocated to a safer location where you will be interned for the duration of the war against the Japanese. Such orders are in the interest and security of the nation and for your own protection.
If I ever find that order, I'll be back to say so. Melissa Green didn't find it either. See "Official proclamation" in her review. After reading that order (p. 28):
The officer told us that we were to leave immediately, at that very minute with only what we had on. No one was permitted to go home to collect clothes or pots and pans, or to close house doors or windows. No one was allowed to leave the beach.He ordered us to board the three boats immediately, to be transferred to the gray ship anchored a couple hundred yards offshore. When some families disregarded the orders and started up the path to their homes, two soldiers ran in front of them and aimed their rifles at them.
Pretty frightening, but, I don't think it is an accurate telling of what happened. I found several resources (including a documentary, Aleut Story) about the evacuations. At some islands, people were given less than 24 hours to prepare, but they were able to pack one bag. All on its own--being forced to select what you'd put in one bag and preparing to move in less than 24 hours--is a horrible experience. Why did Smelcer make it worse than it was?

He does that, again, later when Kiska is on the ship and meets other Aleuts who tell her that the soldiers burned their villages and shot their pets. Hearing gunfire, Kiska runs to a window (they're in the hold of the ship, so she looks out through a small window) and sees soldiers walking through her village, shooting at dogs and cats (p. 31-32):
I saw my dog running up the path to the cliffs above our village, trying to escape. A soldier ran after him, shooting at him and missing him several times. Rocks and dirt flew up where the bullets struck too high or too low. But finally, the soldier knelt and aimed right and killed my dog. I can still see him rolling and rolling down the hill and lying in a clump of grass.
Horrific, right? But not true either. Many villages were pillaged by American military personnel--after the people were gone. One village was burned, and in one village, the cows were shot, but so far I've not seen anything about pets being shot. The soldiers tell the Aleuts that they'll be gone for a very long time, and that's why they are killing the pets. (For more details, see "Burning villages" in Melissa Green's review.)

The story that Smelcer tells in Kiska suggests a government that carried out a methodical and even diabolical removal. That, however, is not accurate either. According to the report Personal Justice Denied, "there was a large failure of administration and planning" (p. 318) for the removals. The ship Kiska is on, he tells us, is the Delarof. That, too, is an error. The Delarof evacuated people from St. Paul and St. George, but not from the Aleutian Islands. (See "Delarof didn't carry all evacuees" in Melissa Green's review.)

In the remaining chapters, there is considerable overlap in what I would include and what Melissa Green included. Rather than repeat what she said, I recommend you read her review in its entirety. I'll turn, now, to the discussion questions at the back of the book.

Many of you know that some teachers use children's and young adult books in classrooms with the intent of supplementing material in a textbook. Some publishers ask their writers to develop a list of discussion questions for the book. Those questions will help a teacher use the book--but I think this part of Smelcer's book falls short, too. This is especially true for the questions that are based on inaccurate events in the story. Here's a set of questions for chapter two:
Did the soldiers have to burn the villages and kill all the cats and dogs? Couldn't they have at least waited until the villagers couldn't see it? The colonel told them this was "for their own good." What do you think about that?
In answering them, children have to accept the story as true. What happens, however, if the child reading the book is Unangan and knows that what Smelcer wrote isn't accurate? How does the child answer that question?

Stepping beyond classroom use of books, it is important to know that some basal reading companies use literature in their packaged materials. If Kiska were used, its errors would then be presented as fact in materials teachers use in the classroom. If that were to happen to Kiska, kids who know the truth would be in a dilemma. They'd have to choose between answering a question with an answer they know is wrong, or answering it with what they know to be true--and then be in an awkward situation with their teacher.

Because literature is used to teach, it is vitally important that historical fiction about little-known events be accurate. The questions for other chapters of Kiska have similar problems. The answers are based on what readers are to believe is accurate information in the chapters.

As long-term readers of AICL know, I've written quite a lot about the ways that the US government and its actions have been harmful to the well-being of Native Nations. In my review of Smelcer's book, I'm in the odd position of defending the government against Smelcer's inaccurate telling of this history.

In short: I do not recommend Kiska, by John Smelcer. Published in 2017 by Leapfrog Press, I think they made an error in judgement.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Not Recommended: THE ITSY BITSY PILGRIM

Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share Allie Jane Bruce's review of The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim, by Jeffry Burton. Published in 2017 by Little Simon, I agree with Allie--this book is not recommended. --Debbie Reese

****

The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim, by Jeffry Burton, Ill. Sanja Rescek. Little Simon.
Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce



In 1863, a White woman named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln.  Hale, a writer and editor (she is most famous for authoring “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), had an idea that she thought might help heal a divided nation: Lincoln should establish a national holiday to celebrate a fictionalized version of an historical encounter between Wampanoag people and English invaders in 1621.  The narrative she told got a lot of things wrong, including the idea that the English people invited Wampanoag people to feast with them (they issued no invitation), and left out even more, such as the larger colonial genocide surrounding that “first Thanksgiving” (for more information about the actual events of 1621 Plymouth, check out 1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace and Margaret Bruchac, National Geographic Children’s Books, 9780792261391).  Lincoln liked this bowdlerized version of history, and agreed to create the holiday—Thanksgiving—that Hale suggested.  The story was canonized and enshrined.

150 years later, myriad books for children, including THE ITSY BITSY PILGRIM, are still telling that story.  In addition to the atrocious rhyme scheme, vapid art, and overall insipid feel, THE ITSY BITSY PILGRIM checks all the usual boxes in perpetuating the Thanksgiving myth:

  • The “pilgrims” (mice) in question are centered and framed as non-problematic settlers rather than increasingly hostile invaders
  • The “pilgrims'” work—building houses, shoveling snow, growing food—is portrayed as entirely their own accomplishment (the Native folks do not show up until after Winter), when in reality, without Wampanoag help from the beginning, the people from England would likely have perished




  • The tribe (Wampanoag) is not named—in fact, these “new friends” are not even identified as First/Native Nations
  • The Wampanoag clothing is simplistic and stereotypical, down to the requisite feathers
  • The pilgrim mice issue an invitation to the Wampanoag mice (this time, to “play”)
  • Both groups sit and eat together in an uncomplicated, thanks-filled, joyful meal, after which…
  • …the story ends, free from genocide, displacement, structural inequities, or any other inconvenient injustices.



That a board book could tackle a subject like genocide is, I know, unrealistic, and I do not mean to suggest that it should.  I know that the 2-4 year old brain (for which this book is intended) is not built to understand such a concept (although young children hailing from cultures who’ve experienced genocide are often, inevitably, exposed to language and conversations about genocide from the time they’re born).  

It is crucial, however, to examine the messages we have sent and continue to send, year after year, about Thanksgiving; at its essence, the holiday story airbrushes history, minimizes Native trauma, and assuages White guilt.  No single board book can correct that, but it can perpetuate—or counter—those messages.  The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim unequivocally perpetuates them.  I unequivocally do not recommend it.

Monday, November 06, 2017

KISKA by John Smelcer: "Historical fiction" that lies about history

Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) is pleased to publish Kiska: "Historical fiction" that lies about history" submitted to us by Melissa S. Green of Anchorage, Alaska. AICL concurs with Green that Kiska ought not be taught in the classroom. Teachers who teach about WWII will find the history Green provides especially useful. Writers, editors, and reviewers in children's literature: please study and share Green's review. Published in 2017 by Leapfrog Press, Kiska is not recommended. --Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, AICL. (Additional note on Nov 12: see Debbie's review of Kiska.)

****

Kiska by John Smelcer: "Historical fiction" that lies about history
Melissa S. Green
Anchorage, Alaska

Historical fiction shouldn’t lie about history. This book does.

Kiska presents itself as a historical novel for readers aged 12–16. The author writes at the start of the book, “Except for variations in time and character identification and placement, most of the events written in this story are true and actually happened.”

But historical fiction shouldn’t lie about history. This book does. This book’s author and publisher rely upon the ignorance of readers and reviewers for any success this novel might have. The book’s “Questions for Discussion” and “Resources for Further Study” indicate a plan to market the book to educators for use in classrooms.

I object to intentionally teaching falsehoods to middle schoolers (or to anyone else for that matter.) This review is intended to correct some of the distortions of fact contained in this novel, and to offer some resources to supplement the wholly inadequate “Resources for Further Studies” bibliography included in Kiska.




The history

Kiska’s historical setting is World War II Alaska. Six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted U.S. entry into the war, on June 3–4, 1942 the Japanese bombed U.S. naval and army installations at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. On June 6–7, they invaded Kiska and Attu Islands, on the other end of the Aleutian Chain. (Though unknown to Americans until WWII ended, the Unangax (Aleut) villagers on Attu were captured and held as prisoners on the Japanese island of Hokkaido for the duration of the war.)

In emergency reaction to Japanese military movements, American commanders ordered the evacuation of all Unangax (Aleuts) in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. The evacuation, involving 881 Unangax from the nine villages of Atka, St. Paul, St. George, Nikolski, Kashega, Makushin, Biorka, Akutan, and Unalaska, took place in three waves from June 12 to July 26, 1942. Evacuees sometimes had little more than an hour (or, in Atka village’s case, no time at all) to gather possessions or secure their homes and property, and neither evacuees nor the Army and Navy personnel who effected the evacuations had any idea where the evacuees would end up. Earlier plans, some even made in consultation with Unangax communities, were incomplete, and in the contingencies of the moment, with U.S. Army and Navy ships already underway with evacuees aboard, the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs (OIS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) scrambled to find relocation sites for the evacuees. What they found were abandoned facilities in Southeast Alaska — old salmon and herring canneries, an old mine, an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp — rundown facilities with poor sanitation, inadequate heating, bad pipes, and other problems. As summarized in the 1982 report Personal Justice Denied of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC):

The Aleuts were relocated to abandoned facilities in southeastern Alaska and exposed to a bitter climate and epidemics of disease without adequate protection or medical care. They fell victim to an extraor­dinarily high death rate, losing many of the elders who sustained their culture. While the Aleuts were in southeastern Alaska, their homes in the Aleutians and Pribilofs were pillaged and ransacked by American military personnel. (CWRIC, 1982: 318). [No provision had been made by either civil or military authorities for the protection of Uanangan property.]

The story

Kiska is framed as a story told by the eponymous character — named after one of the two islands of the western Aleutians that the Japanese had invaded — recounting her World War II experiences to a visiting granddaughter. She begins her tale with June 4, 1942, a date she remembers clearly because she’d been marking off days on the calendar to her 14th birthday, just days away. Later in the day, a distant rumbling is heard from the east. “Sounds like thunder coming from Dutch Harbor,” her father says. But by the end of the first chapter, the radio announces the truth of the matter: it wasn’t thunder, but Japanese planes attacking Dutch Harbor. In the following chapter the U.S. Army Transport Delarof arrives without advance warning to evacuate Kiska’s village. When the villagers board the ship, they find residents of another village already aboard, and the ship’s dingy hold becomes increasingly crowded as the Delarof steams to seven other villages to evacuate their residents. The Delarof takes the full complement of 811 evacuees to Southeast Alaska. Along the way, Kiska’s infant niece dies of pneumonia and is buried at sea.

Although Kiska and her family are from one of the eastern Aleutian islands, they are inexplicably put ashore with residents of the Pribilof Island villages of St. Paul and St. George. Housed in an abandoned salmon cannery at Funter Bay on Admiralty Island, they struggle to survive inadequate housing, cold, lack of food, disease, neglect, and the oppression of Fish and Wildlife personnel and white soldiers whom the evacuees call “Keepers.” Kiska, guided by an old man Agafon who is rumored to be the “last shaman,” secretly learns to fish and hunt in order to help her people.

Distortions of history

Recall now what the author claimed at the start of the book: “Except for variations in time and character identification and placement, most of the events written in this story are true and actually happened.” In fact, the novel abounds with historical inaccuracies and distortions. Here are some of the most obvious:

Delarof didn’t carry all evacuees. The 811 evacuees from the nine Unangax villages are shown as having all been evacuated by the same ship, the U.S. Army Transport Delarof. In fact, the Delarof directly evacuated only St. Paul & St. George, then sailed to Dutch Harbor to bring aboard passengers who had been previously been evacuated from Atka village (most by another ship, some by seaplane a few days later). After boarding the Atkans, the Delarof, with a passenger capacity of 376, carried a total of 560 evacuees — still unhealthily crowded, but also 321 people fewer than this story crams into the hold.

St. Paul Residents Evacuated on U.S. Army Transport Delarof, June 15-16, 1942.
National Archives, General Records of the Department of the Navy (NARA 80-G-12163)

Why did the author decide to lie about history by evacuating everyone all at the same time, and all aboard the same ship? One of the books which details this — Dean Kohlhoff’s 1995 history When the Wind Was a River: Aleut Evacuation in World War II — is in the novel’s “Resources for Further Study” — how did the author miss this? Or…did he just count on the rest of us not bothering to fact check…?

The story eventually makes a similar error at the end of the book, as all the evacuees at all the evacuation camps are returned to their respective villages on the same — but this time unnamed — ship. But no: again, there was more than one ship, more than than one wave of homecomings. And the villages that were not reinhabited — the “lost villages” — were not abandoned because “Half the villages had burned to the ground” (as written in the novel). The government simply refused to repatriate people to some of the villages because it judged they weren’t viable. For a more accurate account, see the National Park Service’s Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians: Biorka, Kashega, Makushin by Ray Hudson & Rachel Mason (2014).

Multiple evacuations. Evacuees from those first 3 villages — St. Paul, St. George, and Atka — arrived at their evacuation camps on June 24–25, 1942, nearly two weeks before evacuation of the other six villages even began (starting July 5 –6). In the map below, the red lines with arrows depict the evacuations from Atka and the Pribilof Islands (St. Paul and St. George), with the fattest red line representing the Delarof’s passage from Dutch Harbor to Admiralty Island after the Atkans had also been boarded. (The yellow lines with arrows pointing west represent the return home of the Pribilof Islanders aboard the USAT William L. Thompson in May 1944.)

Evacuation of the nine villages took place in three waves, not one. Map from from the
National Park Service publication World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska by Charles M. Mobley (2012). Also available as a series of web pages at NPS’s Aleutian World War II National Historic Area.

  
The wrong relocation camp. In the story, Kiska and her family heard sound like thunder coming from the east, from Dutch Harbor, as the Japanese attacked. This would place Kiska’s village west of Dutch Harbor, but still within the eastern Aleutian Islands. In history, villages in this area were not evacuated aboard the Delarof, nor were any of the evacuees from these villages taken to Funter Bay. Evacuation of Nikolski, Kashega, Makushin, Biorkin, and Akutan villages took place on July 5–6. Evacuees from these villages traveled aboard the SS Columbia (the dark blue line on the map above), arriving at the Wrangell Institute in Southeast Alaska on July 13, where they lived in a tent city until August 23, when their final relocation camp was ready — an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Ward Lake near the town of Ketchikan. In short, if Kiska and her family had been near enough Dutch Harbor to have heard the “distant thunder” of the attack on Dutch Harbor, the relocation camp they would have ended up in would have been Ward Lake — not Funter Bay, which housed only the residents of the Pribilof Island villages of St. Paul and St. George. (The Atkans who had traveled with the Pribilovians aboard the Delarof from Dutch Harbor, were taken to an abandoned herring cannery at Killisnoo Bay on Kenasnow Island off the western shore of Admiralty Island.)

The final village to be evacuated, Unalaska, was (and still is) just the other side of a small bay from the military facilities at Dutch Harbor. Unangax residents of Unalaska village (white residents were allowed to stay, due at least in part to racism), were not evacuated until on July 19, nearly a month after the Pribilovians arrived at Funter Bay. Unalaskans sailed to Southeast Alaska aboard the SS Alaska — the dark grey line on the map above — arriving at Wrangell Institute on July 26, where they joined the evacuees already in temporary residence there until being moved in two stages on August 12 and 14 to an abandoned cannery at Burnett Inlet on Etolin Island.

In the map above, the light blue lines with arrows pointing west represent the April 1945 return to the Eastern Aleutians of evacuees from Atka, Nikolski, Kashega, Makushin, Biorkin, Akutan, and Unalaska, sailing aboard the USAT David W. Branch. Residents of Kashega, Makushin, and Biorkin were refused repatriation to their home villages; most were settled in Unalaska. See Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians by Ray Hudson and Rachel Mason (2014). The purple lines on the map represent some of the movements of the villagers of Attu Island, who were held as prisoners in Japan until being flown in November 1945 to San Francisco then Seattle, and returned to the Aleutians on the USAT David W. Branch in December 1945. They, too, were denied repatriation to their home village, and were settled at Atka. See Attu Boy by Nick Golodoff (2012).

Official proclamation. In the story, at each village the Delarof’s commander reads out an official proclamation from the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of War ordering the Unangax to “abandon your village immediately to be relocated to a safer location where you will be interned for the duration of the war against the Japanese. Such orders are in the interest of the nation and for your own protection.”

This fictional proclamation gives the false impression that evacuations were the result of a cohesive, coordinated policy made at the top levels of government, similar to FDR’s Executive Order 9066 (signed 19 Feb 1942) that paved the way for the incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps. In history, as documented in CWRIC’s 1982 report Personal Justice Denied, the policies and planning (or lack of planning) that led to the evacuations were in reaction to the exigencies of war and made almost entirely by civilian and military officials in Alaska and the North Pacific, not by cabinet officials in Washington, DC. The agencies involved were three divisions of the Interior Department with responsibility for policies affecting the Unangax — the Division of Territories (including the office of Territory of Alaska Gov. Ernest Gruening); the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), mainly responsible for education (primarily among the Unangax living in the Aleutian archipelago); and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which managed the highly profitable fur seal harvest in the Pribilof Islands, whose labor force came almost exclusively from the Unangax population of those islands — along with the Alaska Sector of the U.S. Navy’s Thirteenth Naval District, Task Force 8 of the Navy’s North Pacific Force, and the U.S. Army's Alaska Defense Command. As documented by CWRIC, Kohlhoff, and others, bad planning and poor coordination among these authorities were among the principal factors underlying the neglect and maltreatment the Unangax suffered during the war.

(The word “interned” in the fictional order gives a false impression that the Unangax were to be held as prisoners for political or military reasons. Unfortunately, the word still gets wide use, not just by this author, so he can’t be entirely faulted. It is, however, inaccurate. The historical record shows ample evidence of racism — some of it paternalistic, some of it bigotry, some of it uncaring neglect — during the evacuation and in administration of the relocation camps, but the record does not reflect any official policy of interning or imprisoning the Unangax — unlike the Japanese Americans who were interned under FDR’s Executive Order 9066.)

A further proof that such the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of War never wrote any joint “official proclamation” to intern the Unangax is the complaint made on November 23, 1942 by the Secretary of Interior himself — Harold Ickes — in a letter to Secretary of War Henry Stimson:

On June 16, without consulting me or any official of this Department, our armed forces evacuated 468 natives and 20 supervisory employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service and their families from the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, moving them to Funter Bay in Southeastern Alaska, about 1,500 mile away, where presumably they would be less subject to enemy attack.

This action caused great inconvenience and hardship, and resulted in the loss of more than a million dollars by reason of the discontinuance of the operation at the Pribilof Islands, where 95,013 fur-seal skins were taken in the summer of 1941 and 834 fox skins were obtained in the previous winter. (cited in The Aleut Internments of World War II; Eastlack, 2014: 169)

Plainly in Ickes’ mind, the “interest of the nation” lay far more in the value of the fur seal and fox skins to the U.S. Treasury than in the safeguarding the lives of the Pribilof labor force — which is essentially how the U.S. had viewed the Unangax of the Pribilofs as much as the Russians did before them. (Barbara Boyle Torrey spells it out starkly in the title of her 1978 history of the Pribilof Islands: Slaves of the Harvest.) In any case, it’s clear Ickes had no part of a proclamation that placed more importance on protecting Unangax lives than on the profits of the fur seal harvest.

Gathering personal belongings. In the story, Delarof troops force villages to leave their villages at gunpoint without giving them the opportunity to get any clothing or other possessions or to secure their homes. In history, evacuees of all villages except Atka (see below) were given at least some opportunity — though sometimes little more than an hour — to gather possessions. The time allowed was seldom enough for them to secure the property they left behind. Villagers were not held at gunpoint.

Shooting cats and dogs. In the story, after villagers had been taken aboard ship, Delarof troops went through the villages to shoot the villagers’ cats and dogs. Kohlhoff refers to St. George villagers (who had about 24 hours to prepare) killing livestock, but I have yet to come across any account, other than the one in this novel, of military personnel shooting evacuees’ pets.

Burning villages. In the story, Delarof troops burned three of the nine villages to the ground. In history, only Atka village was burned — but in circumstances very different from those depicted in the book.

As documented by CWRIC and Kohlhoff, among others, Atka Islands’ Nazan Bay was being used as a seaplane base to stage raids on Japanese-occupied Kiska Island. After a Japanese reconnaissance plane was sighed over Nazan Bay on June 12, 1942, the USS Gillis was ordered to evacuate Atka & apply a “scorched-earth” policy, in order to deny the Japanese use of the village’s buildings should they also invade Atka Island. But when Gillis crew came ashore, the villagers weren’t there: they’d been advised to go to their fish camps, which were reckoned to be safer if the Japanese attacked. The Gillis evacuated the two Alaska Indian Service employees they found, torched the village as ordered, & returned to their ship. Later, the USS Hulbert spotted the Atkans coming back to see their burned village, took them aboard, and transported them to Nikolski on Umnak Island, where they stayed for three days before being taken on to Dutch Harbor. (But 21 Atkans were left stranded on Atka for three days, until two seaplanes flew them directly to Dutch Harbor.) The Atkans lost virtually everything but the clothing they were wearing.

According to the CWRIC report:

The evacuation of Atka was necessarily hasty, yet the scorched earth policy might have been implemented more carefully had planning been coordinated properly between the Navy and OIA. The irony was that the Atkans were prepared to evacuate before a Japanese attack, and they could have been given time to take their belongings before the village was destroyed. (CWRIC, 1982: 328–329)

This was horrific and traumatizing — but very different from the novel’s sensationalized depiction.

In any case, the USAT Delarof was never at Atka. Delarof picked up its Atka passengers days later from Dutch Harbor. Why lie to 12 to 16-year-old readers about it?

Funter Bay. The only evacuation camp portrayed in the novel is Funter Bay on Admiralty Island, where St. Paul and St. George evacuees lived. But Funter Bay was actually the site of two camps: an abandoned salmon cannery on one side of the bay, where the St. Paul villagers lived; and an abandoned gold mine about one mile away across the bay, where the St. George villagers lived. They were close enough to each other to share resources and to visit back and forth, by boat or by walking around the bay. The novel shows only the cannery, making no mention whatsoever of the mine.

The National Park Service’s Aleutian World War II National Historic Area series on the World War II relocation camps (the web version of Mobley (2012)) documents both camps at Funter Bay — the salmon cannery and the gold mine — including maps and photos.

Death at Funter Bay. Chapter 13 of Kiska depicts a measles epidemic at Funter Bay. In the “Questions for Discussion” at the back of the book, the author writes: “118 Aleuts at Funter Bay contracted measles. Many died from it, mostly the very young and the very old.”

The author is absolutely right that were many deaths at Funter Bay (as there were at the other relocation camps) — far above normal death rates. The mortality rate on St. Paul Island in the year before the war was 10.5 deaths per 1000 people. Based on this rate, there should have been no more than 10 deaths during the two years the Pribilof Islanders were at Funter Bay. Instead, 32 died there — a death rate three times higher than it should have been. The author is also correct that death disproportionately affected the very young and the very old: 14 who died were age ten or younger, and 10 were age fifty or older (Kohlhoff, 1995: 114).

But the author is incorrect about what cause the majority of those deaths. Despite a major measles epidemic in 1943, only 4 the 24 deaths that year were from measles. The major killer overall at Funter Bay was pneumonia, which claimed 11 lives. Two died from tuberculosis. “Just before 1943, the year of highest death rates,” Kohlhoff writes, “Aleut women protestors had warned that living conditions at Funter Bay were deadly. The large number of camp deaths were not attributable only to the measles and influenza epidemic that hit in 1943: only four of the twenty-four who died [that year] succumbed to measles, and none to influenza. Funter Bay camps themselves were the problem” (p. 114).

Petition of Unangax women at Funter Bay protesting conditions, 10 Oct 1942.
Pribilof Island Logbooks Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Record Group 22 (National Archives Identifier 2641505)

Agafon the “shaman”. This is a story about Native people, so there’s got to be a “shaman”: it’s a rule. (Irony.) The “shaman” here is the “outcast” Agafon — though it’s hard to know why the word “shaman” even comes up, unless as a means to appeal to readers who associate shamanism with New Age truisms from “A Course in Miracles” uttered in stereotyped broken English. Mostly what Agafon does to help “save” Kiska’s people is to teach Kiska practical lessons in how to fish, hunt seals, and build kayaks (at unrealistic speed) out of materials at hand — sea lion skins being notably scarce at Funter Bay. (The materials used: oilcloth canvas waterproofed with roofing tar, white cord, and green saplings. I’m skeptical.) All of Kiska’s kayak-building, fishing, and hunting activities are conducted in secret, and when she catches fish — four or five at a time — she leaves them anonymously, as Agafon has instructed, on a path for others to find. It’s a mystery to all the other Funter Bay residents who their secret benefactor is. (At the back of the book, the author claims to have once met a real woman who he modeled Kiska on, who really did this secret hunting and fishing but never told anyone except the author.)


Update, 10 Nov 2017: In the novel, Agafon is only rumored to be a shaman, as shown in Chapter 6 when Kiska’s father tells her “Some people say he's a shaman, maybe the last one." Later, Kiska asks Agafon if he is, in fact, a shaman. He smiles, doesn’t directly answer either yes or no, but goes into a brief speech explaining what shamans are and what they do. She asks him again if he’s a shaman, and he again smiles, but makes no direct answer. Thus, whether or not he is one is strongly implied, but ultimately left ambiguous. Nowhere in the story is any unequivocal statement made to the effect that “Agafon is a shaman." (Nor any unequivocal statement that he isn't one.) I apologize that I did not make this clear at the outset.


I will credit the author with seeming to know about fishing…but why does he fail to credit actual Unangax of St. Paul and St. George at actual Funter Bay for having the same skill? Historically, two government-owned baidars (also called umiaks — traditional Unangax boat similar to large canoes, not to be confused with bidarkas/kayaks) had been brought from the Pribilofs to Funter Bay for purposes of fishing. Fishing and hunting to supplement the evacuees’ diets were a major activity:

Teams of as many as two dozen men went salmon fishing to feed the community, or clamming, and hunters would sometimes bring in three or four deer at a time. Eventually a USFWS boat arrived to issue them hunting licenses. (Mobley, 2012: 32)


“Two government-owned baidars, or traditional Aleut boats, were brought from
the Pribilofs and used at Funter Bay. They were subsequently shared with
Atkans at Killisnoo.” (Mobley, 2012: 29). [Photo: Alaska State Library, 
Butler/Dale collection, George Allen Dale, ASL-P306-1093]


Keepers. In the story, the name Funter Bay residents have for the camp manager and his “staff of guards” is “Keepers.” One part of the reason for Kiska to keep her fishing activities secret is because, as she is warned by Agafon, “if I was discovered, the Keepers would restrict my movements, and then I wouldn't be able to help anymore, and our people would continue to suffer.” Further, if the people who find the fish that Kiska has left anonymously on the path tell the Keepers about their secret benefactor, “they would take the fish for themselves.” The Keepers live in relative comfort, with good food and decent shelter, and strive to keep the evacuees from escaping camp or, apparently, having enough food. At least some of the Keepers are soldiers who prey sexually on the younger women and girls. One of them gets Kiska’s sister pregnant. They are a key feature of the novel’s depiction of the evacuation camps as “internment” camps.

In history, there were no soldiers stationed as guards at Funter Bay or any of the other camps. Here is Mobley’s (2012) description of the non-Unangax residents of Funter Bay when the evacuees first arrived: “The two USFWS employees (St. George agent Daniel C.R. Benson and acting St. Paul agent Carl M. Hoverson) and their wives, and the two school teachers from St. Paul — Mr. and Mrs. Helbaum — and their two children, stayed at Funter Bay with the villagers” (p. 28). The actual (rather than acting) St. Paul agent, Lee McMillin, features prominently in Kohlhoff’s history. (Hoverson was more accurately a storekeeper.) There was also the St. George village priest, who lived at the gold mine camp with other St. George evacuees (Mobley, 2012: 68).

While none of these people were soldiers or “guards,” the FWS Sealing Division personnel did try to keep Funter Bay’s evacuees contained in the camp, fearing that if the Pribilovians got jobs outside the camp — in nearby Juneau, at the defense project at Excursion Inlet (see below), or elsewhere — it would be hard to get them back in time to go back to the Pribilofs during summer 1943 for the lucrative fur seal harvest. For all intents and purposes, from the time of the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867, the Unangax of St. Paul and St. George had been treated by the Interior Department as a captive labor force — as slaves. McMillin didn’t believe the Unangax were subject to the draft because he didn’t believe they were even American citizens. But World War II taught him differently: At least twenty-five Unangax men (including a number from Funter Bay) were drafted or otherwise joined the military during World War II, including three who were awarded the Bronze Star for their part in the May 1943 battle that retook Attu Island from the Japanese (National Park Service, 2017).

Moreover, back at Funter Bay, Unangax defied attempts by McMillin and other FWS personnel to control them. “Within the first six months [at Funter Bay],” Kohlhoff (1995) writes, “there were 135 Pribilof people working outside Funter Bay, mostly in Juneau” — about 28 percent of the population. This included eight women. A year later, about 200 — half the camp — worked outside the camp (p. 111), and all of this against the wishes of the FWS camp management.

This is a very different picture than that painted in the novel of the vast majority of camp residents — all except Agafon, Kiska, and Kiska’s brother Peter — who are overwhelmingly passive in the face of the oppression of the “Keepers.”

A word about Peter: at one point he declares “We have to fight back like . . . like the French Resistance.” He makes this declaration early after his arrival at Funter Bay, sometime after the others arrived, as he’d been away from the village at the time of the evacuation. And so he ended up stranded alone for several days in the Aleutians after everyone else was gone — with no radio, no newspapers, no access at all to information about the war in Europe, much less about the French Resistance. Once reunited with his family Peter’s “resistance” mainly involves malicious pranks played on the “Keepers.” The more meaningful resistance of Unangax defying FWS attempts to control their ability to make a livelihood on their own terms goes entirely unmentioned.

Oktoberfest at Excursion Inlet. In the story, a chapter titled “Oktoberfest” set in October 1942 shows the manager of the Funter Bay camp calling for a work detail “to make repairs on a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Germans about thirty miles away on Excursion Bay.” Kiska goes with the crew, dressed in men’s clothing to conceal her “girlness,” so that she can satisfy her curiosity about the conditions in which the German POWs are being kept — vastly superior to the poor conditions at Funter Bay. Period photographs at the back of the book include three photos, courtesy the Alaska State Library, showing the canteen, living quarters, and mess hall at the POW camp.

In history, the correct name of the place was (and still is) Excursion Inlet — not Excursion Bay — and there were no German POWs there until August 1945, after Germany’s surrender but prior to Japan’s. The POWs were brought to Excursion Inlet to help dismantle a formerly secret military installation, the Alaska Barge Terminal (officially the Excursion Inlet Subport of Embarcation), which had been built over a 15-month period beginning in August 1942 as a staging area for a potential invasion of Japan from the North Pacific. But by the time the project was completed in November 1943, the Japanese had been expelled from the Aleutians, and the facility was mothballed. German POWs helped dismantle SE Alaska’s ‘White Elephant’ by Dave Kiffner (SitNews [Ketchikan, AK], 17 Feb 2015) has the story, along with the same photos from the Alaska State Library that are included at the back of the novel. Then there’s the source of the photos themselves: the Alaska State Library website. There, you might note the clear labeling of the dates of the camp: “Prisoners of War Camp (German prisoners) Excursion Inlet, Alaska. August-November, 1945.” These dates are notably absent from the presentation of the photos at the back of the book, despite other information which properly cites their source.

Mess hall at German prisoner-of-war camp, Excursion Inlet, Alaska, 
August-November, 1945.  [Photo: Alaska State Library, U.S. Army Signal 
Corps Photograph Collection, ca. 1889-1970. ASL-PCA-175]

The Excursion Inlet facility’s history is also documented in a 1987 report commissioned by the Alaska Region of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, World War II in Alaska: A Historic and Resources Management Plan, Volume 1. A History of World War II in Alaska and Management Plan” by Klein et al., where one can read:

In June, 1945, some 50 days after the surrender of Germany, 700 German POWs were transferred to Alaska to take down Excursion Inlet. These were noncommissioned officers and enlisted men, primarily from the North African campaign (Rommel's Afrika Korps). Beginning in July, they demolished the majority of facilities at Excursion Inlet. The work continued past the end of the War in the Pacific in August, with the last POWs being shipped out in January, 1946….the use of German POWs to demolish the facility in 1945 is of historic importance, representing the only presence of enemy POWs in Alaska. (Klein et al., 1987: part 5, pp. 60-61; emphasis added)

The point is that there’s a nearly three-year difference in the timeline between October 1942, when Kiska fictionally visited their camp, and August 1945 when these former Afrika Korps soldiers arrived at Excursion Inlet. In fact, the evacuees of Funter Bay had already returned to their homes in the Pribilof Islands in May 1944 more than a full year before the German POWs even arrived in Alaska. The Unangax in the other Southeast Alaska relocation camps had gone back to the Aleutians no later than May 1945, three months before the German POWs came up. Unless they had a time machine, they couldn’t possibly have met any German POWs.

This is not to say that no Unangax ever went to Excursion Inlet in 1942–1943: At least 13 Atkans from the Killisnoo Bay camp and 14 evacuees from the Ward Lake camp worked to build the Alaska Barge Terminal defense project at Excursion Inlet (Kohlhoff, 1995: 121, 127). One of the problems FWS faced getting Funter Bay evacuees back to the Pribilofs to work the summer 1943 fur seal harvest was that “At Excursion Inlet, some Aleuts were employed in a defense project and were ‘making from $50 to over $100 weekly plus allowances.’ It would be difficult for the Sealing Division to compete” (Kohlhoff, 1995: 111-112).

The Unangax fight for redress. In the book’s epilogue, a 1996 photo of the author with U.S. Senator Ted Stevens is accompanied by the assertion that “In 1986, Sen. Stevens asked John Smelcer, a cultural anthropologist and oral historian, to interview surviving Aleut elders so that their heartrending stories could be included in the legislation” — a reference to the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Restitution Act (P.L. 100-383) of 1988. But in 1986, Smelcer had only just graduated from University of Alaska Fairbanks with bachelor’s degrees in English and anthropology — credentials insufficient to qualify him professionally as a “cultural anthropologist.”

It’s nonetheless possible that he met Sen. Stevens in 1986, as he later did in 1996. But it’s unlikely that Sen. Stevens needed his assistance to document the “heartrending stories” of Unangax elders. The Unangax had already been doing the work themselves for years. Transformed by their experience in the relocation camps — angry at what they’d suffered in the camps (disease and death, neglect, racism…) and on return home (homes and property stolen and vandalized by American servicemen), newly awake to opportunities that the FWS and other government entities had isolated them from, allied with politically engaged Alaska Natives they’d befriended in Southeast, such as the Alaska Native Brotherhood — they organized themselves to assert their dignity, their sovereignty, and their right to redress.

In 1978, the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) retained a lawyer named John C. Kirtland, who worked with the Alaska congressional delegation, including Sen. Stevens, to push an amendment to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) Act (enacted in 1980 as Public Law 96-317), to add the investigation of the Unangax evacuation and relocation to the CWRIC’s mandate to investigate the Japanese American internments. Then Kirtland and APIA got the Alaska Legislature and governor to appropriate the funds to gather Unangax testimony. The result: a “memorandum in equity law with voluminous documentation” — the 9-volume “The Relocation and Internment of the Aleuts During World War II” (available on CD from the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association). The APIA also mobilized survivors of the camps to CWRIC hearings held in September 1981 in Anchorage, Unalaska, and St. Paul, resulting in in-person testimony from 53 Unangax witnesses and a further 135 depositions and written testimonies. All this testimony, assembled by the Unangax themselves with the help of their lawyers, formed the basis for the Aleut section of the CWRIC report, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, published in 1982. The CWRIC report paved the way for the legislation for redress that was eventually enacted by Congress and signed by President Reagan in 1988. In fact its findings were described at length in a speech in by Sen. Stevens in support of legislation to implement CWRIC’s findings, including Title III of the bill — the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Restitution Act. This speech was made on the floor of the Senate on May 2, 1985 (beginning p. 10268) — a year before his supposed request for help from the author.

It’s shameful for someone who writes a “historical novel” that so profoundly distorts history to claim himself as instrumental in an effort in which he was at most (to be generous) a latecomer.

A last niggle or two. There are a few examples in this novel of idioms that just don’t seem to fit the time period of 1942–1945. For example, Kiska in Chapter 7 informs her brother that “You’re not the boss of me” — a phrasing I never heard until becoming parent to a defiant 9-year-old in 1996. But in a book written to appeal to YAs — okay, I get it.

No, the last niggle I really have is in Chapter 1, when Kiska, by then a grandmother, tells her visiting granddaughter, “Alaska is not yet a state, but we hope it will be one day.”

According to the story, Kiska turned 14 in 1942. That would make her 30 in 1958. (Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959). For her to be a grandmother at age 30, her granddaughter couldn't have been anymore than one or two years old, without the language development to comprehend Kiska's story, nor the physical capacity to obey her grandmother’s request in the first sentence of the story: "Pour me another cup of tea and sit down, Granddaughter."

That’s just one more sign of this author’s carelessness in this novel.

In conclusion….

I haven’t covered every inaccuracy or problem with this novel — just what stood out most obviously. The verdict is: Kiska is not “historical fiction.” It’s just fiction. Mixed in with those elements that are true to history (there are a few, believe it or not) are so many distortions — not only in the story itself, but also in the “Questions for Discussion” that supplement the book — as to make this book entirely useless as a means for any reader to understand the Unangax experience of the war or what followed it. The best educational use of this book would be to assign it as an exercise in fact-checking. Some of the professional reviewers who have reviewed this book could certainly benefit from such an exercise.

Recommended: Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse (2005)

A better choice for young adult readers would be Karen Hesse’s Aleutian Sparrow (2005), a historical novel in free verse about a teenage girl from the Unalaska Island village of Kashega, whose residents were evacuated to the old Civilian Conservation Corps at Ward Lake (near Ketchikan). Hesse’s book successfully conveys Unangax ways without resorting to stereotype (something that can’t be said for Kiska), including a more accurate depiction of the actual activities Unalaska Islanders pursued for their livelihoods in 1942; and also conveys all the confusion, suffering, and loss of the evacuation camp experience.

Please read accounts by the actual people who lived through this horrendous time to see how all the people at Funter Bay & the other evacuation camps worked tenaciously to care for themselves and their families. They hunted. They fished. They even got jobs away from the camps. After the war ended, they fought tenaciously for their rights so that such a thing might never happen again. They didn’t just sit there waiting to be “saved.” If you read such stories, you’ll know that the young hero the author tries to make his character Kiska out to be shouldn’t have been designed as an “outsider” at all. To be heroic, she’d just have to be one among her people, the Unangax of the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands.

References & recommended

Carlson, Phyllis Downing; & Bill, Laurel Downing. (2012). Aunt Phil’s Trunk, Volume 4: 1935–1960 (2nd ed.). Anchorage, AK: Aunt Phil’s Trunk LLC. Entertaining (and accurate) stories of Alaska history with lots of photos; includes chapters on the Unangax relocation, the wider war in the Aleutians, and the German POWs at Excursion Inlet.

Commission on Wartime Relocation And Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). (1982). Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Golodoff, Nick. (2012). Attu Boy. Anchorage, AK: National Park Service, Aleutian World War II National Historic Area. The true story of an Attu villager held as a prisoner by the Japanese. A second edition (same content but different ordering) was published by University of Alaska Press as Attu Boy: A Young Alaskan's WWII Memoir (2015).

Hesse, Karen. (2005). Aleutian Sparrow. Margaret K. McElderry Books. A historical novel in free verse about a young Unangax evacuated to Ward Cove.

Hillman, Anne; Mason, Rachel; & Petrivelli, Pat. (2017). “75th Anniversary of Aleut Evacuation” 59 mins. Talk of Alaska [radio broadcast]: Alaska Public Media. My local public radio broadcaster. Hosted by Anne Hillman; Rachel Mason is an (actual) cultural anthropologist with the Aleutian World War II National Historical Area of the National Park Service; Pat Petrivelli is the daughter of Atka village evacuee and Unangax leader Alice Snigaroff Petrivelli.

Kiffer, Dave. (2015). “German POWs Helped Dismantle Se Alaska’s ‘White Elephant’.” SitNews [Ketchikan, AK], 17 Feb 2015.

Klein, Joel L.; Nolan, James L.; Findley, Jannette Warren; Brenner, William A.; Gillespie, Richard E.; & Vitter, John. (1987). World War II in Alaska: A Historic and Resources Management Plan, Volume 1. A History of World War II in Alaska and Management Plan. Lyndhurst, NJ: Envirosphere Co. [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska Region]. [Warning: big file!]

Hudson, Ray; & Mason, Rachel. (2014). Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians: Biorka, Kashega, Makushin. Anchorage, AK: National Park Service, Alaska Region.

Kirtland, John C.; & Coffin, David F., Jr. (1981). The Relocation and Internment of the Aleuts During World War II. Anchorage, AK: Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association.

Kohlhoff, Dean. (1995). When the Wind Was a River: Aleut Evacuation in World War II. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Merculieff, Ilarion. (2016). Wisdom Keeper: One Man’s Journey to Honor the Untold History of the Unangax People. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. Merculieff is a modern Unangax leader born on St. Paul Island, whose parents met as teenagers at the Funter Bay evacuation camp.

Mobley, Charles M. (2012). World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska. Anchorage, AK: National Park Service, Alaska Region. Contents of this book are also kept up to date as a series of web pages at NPS’s Aleutian World War II National Historic Area.

National Park Service. (2017). “Unanga (Aleut) Evacuation & Internment” (web page). National Park Service, Aleutian World War II National Historic Area, Alaska.

Schlung, Tyler M., Nikolski School, & Pels, Jacqueline (eds.). (2003). Umnak: The People Remember. Walnut Creek, CA: Hardscratch Press. This compilation by Nikolski village students, edited by their teacher, covers the history and culture of Nikolski on Umnak Island.

Stevens, Sen. Ted. (1985). Congressional Record, 2 May 1985: 10268-10269. Statement of Sen. Stevens in support of “S. 1053 — Legislation to Implement Recommendations of Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians” and requesting unanimous consent (which was granted) to print a section-by-section summary of Title III of the bill — the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Restitution Act — in the Congressional Record.

Torrey, Barbara Boyle. (1978). Slaves of the Harvest. Anchorage, AK: Tanadgusix Corporation. A history of St. Paul and St. George in the Pribilof Islands.