Alaskan poet Joan Naviyuk Kane, A.B. ’00, is fiercely dedicated to sustaining her Alaska Native language, a devotion she learned from her grandmother, who as a young woman had to dig in her heels and defend its importance against an increasingly hostile English-speaking society.
Kane relates to her grandmother’s tough times and challenges. No corner of the world was remote enough to escape the horrific flu pandemic of 1918. For Kane’s grandmother and her sisters, the death of their parents at that time meant traveling on foot from Mary’s Igloo, Alaska, their remote Inupiaq reindeer hunting camp on the Seward Peninsula, to a Catholic mission 20 miles away.
“I think they were 2, 4, and 6 when my grandmother and her older sister switched off carrying their younger sister along the Pilgrim and Kuzitrin Rivers,” said Kane. “They thought that the way to survive was to get to where there might still be people living, and they knew there was a church or mission at this hot-springs location.”