Ernestine Hayes

ernestine2014 Alaska Literary Award

Ernestine Hayes is a prolific, published writer in a variety of genres, including creative nonfiction, book-length nonfiction and creative nonfiction, poetry and prose-poetry, book-length fiction, and fiction essays. She is best known for her autobiography, “Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir,” which tells the story of the author’s journey back home after a twenty-five year absence. “Blonde Indian” won the 2007 American Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN Nonfiction Award and Kiriyama Prize.

On her website, Ernestine’s bio reads:

I was born and raised in Juneau when Alaska was still a territory. When I was fifteen years old, my mother and I moved to California, where I spent twenty-five long years. When I turned forty, I resolved to go home or die with my thoughts facing north. It took me eight months to get from San Francisco to Ketchikan. I finally made it back home two years later.  

After I came back home, I enrolled at the University of Alaska, eventually receiving an MFA in creative writing and literary arts. I now teach at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.

I belong to the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Eagle side of the Lingit nation. I have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The Spoken Forest

This poem was permanently installed at Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska, as part of Poems in Place.

I was thinking about the forest one day and it came to me—
our stories,
our songs,
our names,
our history,
our memories
are not lost.

All these riches are being kept for us
by our aunties, our uncles,
our grandparents, our relatives—
those namesakes who walk and dance
wearing robes that make them seem like bears
and wolves.

Our loved ones.
Those beings who live in the spoken forest.
They are holding everything for us.