Born in Juneau, Alaska, Ernestine Hayes is a member of the Wolf House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Lingit. She is assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast and is the recipient of the Explorations 2002 Alaska Native Writer's Award. She has won recognition in Native oratory and storytelling. Her writing has appeared in Travelers Tales Alaska, The Anchorage Press, Rasmuson Foundation grantees' stories, and the Juneau Empire opinion column "Edge of the Village". Her current projects include a collection of linked short stories, a study of Raven tales, and a comprehensive history of the Tlingit. She is the grandmother of four children.
Blonde Indian was a winner of the 2006 American Book Award as well as a finalist for the PEN USA nonfiction and Kiriyama prizes.
In the spring, the bear returns to the forest, the glacier returns to its source, and the salmon returns to the fresh water where it was spawned. Drawing on the special relationship that the Native people of southeastern Alaska have always had with nature, Blonde Indian is a story about returning. Told in eloquent layers that blend Native stories and metaphor with social and spiritual journeys, this enchanting memoir traces the author's life from her difficult childhood growing up in the Tlingit community, through her adulthood, during which she lived for some time in Seattle and San Francisco, and eventually to her return home. Neither fully Native American nor Euro-American, Hayes encounters a unique sense of alienation from both her Native community and the dominant culture. We witness her struggles alongside other Tlingit men and women-many of whom never left their Native community but wrestle with their own challenges, including unemployment, prejudice, alcoholism, and poverty. The author's personal journey, the symbolic stories of contemporary Natives, and the tales and legends that have circulated among the Tlingit people for centuries are all woven together, making Blonde Indian much more than the story of one woman's life. Filled with anecdotes, descriptions, and histories that are unique to the Tlingit community, this book is a document of cultural heritage, a tribute to the Alaskan landscape, and a moving testament to how going back-in nature and in life-allows movement forward.