Photo: Ella Alkiewicz, September 2017
Articles + Essays
The American Story
by Ella Alkiewicz
Inuit writer Ella Alkiewicz tells her American Story.
I’m an Inuk woman south of the border. I came to The States at five months old ready to make waves upon White society. Evidently, on my first day in America, I made a ripple when the U.S. Customs border official asked my new parents in May of 1971, was I “an Alien?”
My adopted White parents didn’t know Inuk-me would have a stigma of being non-White in White America. Luckily, I wasn’t the only adoptee of color in our family, though I was the only Native kid in the community. By the time I was 17, I realized I needed to create an impenetrable invisible suit of armor fit for a warrior to stand tall in. I heard too many snide remarks upon my heritage. For example, I have heard respectable, well-meaning, polite, educated people ask questions such as: “What’s an Inuit?” “You are…Native? I thought you were Chinese.” “You’re an Eskimo? Eskimo means Meat Eater. You must be a carnivore. A Barbarian.” “Do you still live in igloos?” “I thought you were all ancient. Extinct.” “Can you talk to the animals?” “Do you like snow? Teach me a word for snow.”
In my younger years, I fabricated answers that were ludicrous and wrong. I told long winded answers and sounded serious. I lowered my voice where they would have to step closer to hear my ‘wise Shaman-like’ self. I enjoyed the jaw dropping faces my answers caused. Afterwards, I walked away and sneered at the gullible people; I treated everyone as a joke.
The interested people heard me then would rant profanities against my character. I was not a kind or gracious Inuk. I realize now, I deserved those comments due to my actions.
It took until November 2009 when I met and interviewed the late great Santee Sioux Indian John Trudell for me to change. Back then, I attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a second bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Certificate in Native Studies. My dear friend Joyce Vincent, a Blackfoot and Cherokee elder, arranged for me to interview Mr. Trudell at the University of Massachusetts Amherst University Club. She was good friends with him and she worked at UMass Amherst. I needed paper to prove that I am a trained Native journalist. I accomplished that goal with the help of Mr. Trudell, Joyce Vincent, and other fabulous Native Americans/Aboriginals/First Nations/Inuit by May 2012.
That glorious autumn day, I showed up with a sweetgrass braid in a navy-blue dress and my briefcase. I didn’t know how to behave around this important elder and felt very insecure. My ego lied to me; I thought I would become the Inuk Katie Couric. The questions I asked him were down-right nosy, rude, and offensive. I didn’t have the culture, training, or the grace to be humble and follow his lead. In hind sight, I ran amok over his feelings. Fortunately, Mr. Trudell surmised I was new and eager for an article. He gave me pat answers that I could understand and rewrite.
Since 2009, I have happily grown into an Inuk I can be proud of. It has taken time to grasp the wisdom of Mr. Trudell. He told me that November day, I need to be the best Native/Inuk I can be. If someone only met me, I would want them to remember me fondly. I represent my immediate family, my ancestors, and my future relatives. I am one of thousands of Inuit. My existence needs to stand for honor and grace, not how much money I have or what I drive. I didn’t know how I treated others and what I did was more important than what I owned or where I lived. Baubles and plastic are not spiritual fixes nor becoming. I also realized I can’t be the stereotypical Indian. I must be the best possible version of my higher self.
In today’s America, where the person in charge has the vocabulary of a fourth grader, a diet soda addiction, a golden toilet to sit upon, and an army of attorneys to defend his lies; I cannot emulate his ego. My Inuit ancestors suffered for my future. I must be the best Inuk I can be. Mr. Trudell said so.
My handsome husband tells me I am a Word Weaver. I try every day to honor his kind title with pride and joy. I write for our better future. My panik (daughter) needs US to lead with our invisible armor to defend the rights of words, ideas, and plans for the success of fellow indigenous peoples. This is my American Story, A.D. 2018.
Photo: John Trudell circa Nov. 2009
Ella Alkiewicz, a member of Nunatsiavut kavamanga, lives in Western Mass. with her family. She attends Lesley University and is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing Nonfiction. Her thesis is titled, “Nomad on the Move: A Memoir.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.