Friday, August 17, 2012

Debby Dahl Edwardson's WHALE SNOW

We (Indigenous peoples) are diverse in a great many ways based on things like our location and history, but there are some commonalities amongst us. These commonalities shine in books like Debby Dahl Edwardson's Whale Snow. Like the Inupiaq, we (Pueblo Indians) hunt. Our coexistence with the animals we hunt and our dependence on them is part of our spirituality.

As Whale Snow opens, Amiqqaq, a young Inupiat boy, is with his grandma. She's making donuts. I love that donuts is part of this story! It is like us having jello and chocolate cake on our tables at traditional feasts. Some of our non-Pueblo guests are surprised to see them amidst all our traditional stews. Because they didn't originate with us, some people think our use of things like that means we're "less authentic." Are Americans less-American because they don't eat the exact foods (and nothing else) that the Founding Fathers ate?! Of course not! Back to Whale Snow...    

Amiqqaq looks out the window at the "fat snow" that falls, wishing he was out on the ocean ice with his dad and the other whalers. His grandma tells him it is "whale snow" that "comes when a whale has given itself to the People" (no page numbers). By the end of the story, we know why Amiqqaq is named Amiqqaq, we know a little about how his family prepares whale meat, and Amiqqaq's mom has taught him about the "spirit of the whale." That page (shown below) is one of my favorites:

The page shows Amiqqaq and his mom. The text in the page I loaded is from the Inupiaq version of the book (download it from Edwardson's website). Amiqqaq tells his mom he's happy inside. He says "Inside is like a giant smile. Bigger than a house. Wider than a whole village." I remember that feeling! I experienced it, too, when my dad or uncle or cousins went hunting and came home with a deer (that was in the 60s). We'd all gather at my grandmother's house. As someone arrived, they'd bless the deer in the way that we do, and then we'd revel in just being together in her kitchen, some of us warming our backsides on the wood stove that heated her house.

In some ways, this review says more about me than it does about Whale Snow. But that is precisely why it is an important book. I connect with it! It reflects my experience as a Pueblo Indian girl who grew up in a village where we hunted and co-existed with the animals in the mountains around us, and in fact, it reflects the experience of my great niece, Hayle, who is having a childhood much like mine was, over 40 years ago.

Whale Snow is an outstanding book. If you can't tell, I highly recommend it.


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