REVIEW - BAILEY
Bailey, Doris Chapin, A Divided Forest. Trafford Publishing. Softbound. 113 pages. Black and white photographs. $15.95.
The years from 1900 to around 1960 were likely the most difficult ones the Tlingit people and culture ever faced. That they survived at all is testimony to the depth and resilience of the proud and once numerous Tlingits, the most northerly of the Northwest Coast Indians.
Not only were white people moving in and often claiming Indian land with the backing of the court system; European diseases such as the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918 and then tuberculosis claimed lives. Tuberculosis, (T.B.), was particularly harmful as the patients either died or were sent to sanitaria, leaving their children behind. If no family members could take them, often the children were adopted by white people and taken out of Alaska, growing up with no idea of their own Tlingit names, let alone their culture. Losing one's name is devastating to a person from a culture built around the name; that places one in the universe; the clans ,the ancestors, the stories and legends belonging to the clans, the claims to territories, the whole sense of identity as a person. Without it you will be, as an older Tlingit once put it, "a log drifting on the ocean."
Well-meaning white people, particularly missionaries and teachers, also contributed to this tidal wave pounding against the traditional ways by insisting language and customs be forgotten.
It is always a fine thing to put a human face to chronicled disruptions.
Young Roy Bailey was born in Petersburg in November of 1926, likely because his father was working there. Sitka and Angoon seem to have been the home villages of his parents. Information on his early life is hard to find as his mother died of tuberculosis when he was very young, and this being the depths of the Depression, his father couldn't keep the four children together. Roy was taken to a dreadful place run by two women, the author says, "of a strict and joyless Christian fundamentalist sect," Bethel Beach Children's Home, in Juneau. He didn't make contact with his siblings for years, as they had grown up with other families. His father was in the Merchant Marine for some years.
However, in one respect Bailey was fortunate. He had family members around, including his father when he was able, so he knew his Tlingit name and family and spent time with them.
The author tries to give a sense of traditional Tlingit food gathering and a bit of history. The shelling of Killisnoo, today's Angoon, is gone into at some length.
Back to our hero; World War II dominated his life as it did most young Americans of that period. Attending Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka, he had planned to join the Navy but wound up being drafted into the Army, where he served during the infamous Belgian "Battle of the Bulge". Here we are given a rare glimpse of Roy the soldier, just after the bloodiest engagement with the Germans of the war. He doesn't like to talk about it, but here is a direct quote when speaking of the surrendering enemy soldiers, hands on top of their heads to indicate surrender. "If you took the time to look them in the face, you saw the face of a defeated, cold, hungry human being."
The just-eighteen-year-old was the only survivor of his squad, although he was badly wounded. In the hospital in France, he learned he was regarded as an Eskimo and told as such he couldn't possibly have sustained the wounds. Many, many years later friends successfully petitioned the Army and the proper medals were awarded.
Overall, this small book is an intriguing beginning to what it was and is like to be Tlingit in the current time. More, please.