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review for Anglicans Online
“My name is David Salmon. Today, I am an Episcopalian priest and the Traditional Chief of Interior Alaska’s First Nations people. I am 93 years old.”
So begins this gentle children’s book by David Salmon, former Archdeacon of Interior Alaska and the Yukon and current parish priest of the village of Chalkyitsik, Alaska. Wide-format illustrations accompany the story of Fr. Salmon’s boyhood in a Gwich’in Athabascan village in northeastern Alaska. When his mother died during a tuberculosis epidemic in 1923, Fr. Salmon was taken by his father to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Mission, a hospital and school in Fort Yukon then served by missionaries Grafton and Clara Burke. Before he began his studies there, however, his father taught him how to trap, and explained traditional Gwich’in culture to his son. Alaska’s Little Chief follows the ten-year-old Salmon on his journey to the mission and then back to his people after the tuberculosis epidemic had subsided.
Each of the bright paintings in this colorful and interesting book incorporates a small white ermine leading readers from page to page through the story. This glimpse of a moment in Anglican and Alaskan history is sure to be delightfully new to many readers; I found myself wishing it had been twice or three times as long. A glossary gives information on all the animals mentioned in the book, along with their Gwich’in names and a description of their places in Alaskan life.
Gwich’in Anglicans have been in world news over the last several years as prominent opponents of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In repeated petitions to the American Congress, they have lobbied for continued protection of the natural habitat in which their ancestors are believed to have lived for as long as 10,000 years. Alaska's Little Chief allows readers young and old alike to see the natural surroundings and traditional life that have been held up for particular attention by repeated resolutions of General Convention, the Executive Council and the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. It is all the more wonderful that this valuable perspective comes from Archdeacon Salmon himself.This delightful and profound boyhood narrative ends with a short autobiographical statement by Archdeacon Salmon in which he writes: “By tradition, Indian law requires fathers to teach the necessary tools of life to their sons. The scriptures are my tools of life. I tell others when they honor me, they are honoring the God Whom I serve. With such tools, our people will survive another thousand years.”