Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
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Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River area in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these two women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die truing. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship,community, and forgiveness will carve out a permanent place in readers' imaginations.
mother would try to make me sit still and sew, or learn that which I would have to know when I became a woman. But my father and brothers always rescued me. They liked me the way I was.” She smiled at her memories. “Our family was different from most. My father and mother let us do almost anything. We did chores like everyone else, but after they were done, we could explore. I never played with other children, only with my brothers. I am afraid I did not know what growing up was about because I
had to contain himself from embracing them. The women eyed him with distrust, so they all sat down to talk instead. The women told the chief what they expected from The People. He responded by telling them their wishes would be obeyed. “We will give you enough food for The People, and when it becomes low, we will give you more food. We will give you small portions at a time,” Sa’ told the chief, who nodded his head almost humbly. It took another day before the band reached the new camp, unpacked
with old ones thought to be near death would have been seen as a foolhardly waste. Yes, she could forgive her daughter. She could even thank her, for she decided that had it not been for the babiche, they might not have survived. Ch’idzigyaak broke out of her thoughts as she realized that her grandson waited for her to say something. Putting her arms around his shoulders she patted him gently and said, “Tell my daughter that I do not hate her, Grandson.” Relief flooded the boy’s face, for he had
to their lifestyle of following the resources. They could not afford to sit around and wait for the resources to come to them; such negligence invited hunger and starvation. So they moved around, establishing camps at places which predictably yielded good hunting or fishing according to the season. Athabaskans sometimes faced times of starvation because the land was unable to produce enough for them. While not necessarily a daily threat to existence, the possibility of starvation was a
Such musings were meant only to lift their spirits and the women knew that their journey was not over, nor would their struggle for survival become easier. Although they had grown soft in their old age, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ knew they would pay a high price of hard toil before the land yielded them any comforts. The two women walked down the winding slough until they came upon a large river. Even in times of cold weather, the swishing undercurrents of the river eroded the ice and made it thin and