The seeds for this story were planted in my childhood. I grew up in Alaska, surrounded by the ancestral lands of the Ahtna Athabascan people. While attending school with Ahtna classmates and working for the village governments after college, my respect for the Ahtna people and their culture grew.
When a village family fell into crisis, my parents chose to foster and then adopt the four children. These four children became my siblings: by choice, by law, and by love. I love them as fiercely as if they were siblings by blood.
My adopted brothers and sisters have a dark past, and I found myself compelled to demonstrate the love I have for them, our childhood homeland, and their people. However, Ahtna Athabascan mythology and history is not mine to tell, because I do not share their heritage.
Instead, I wrote a story about a people that are like the Ahtna people. It is deliberately
inaccurate. The Ahtna are very private about their myths and culture. I considered making the people in my story white to match my own skin color, but to me, white-washing the characters lacked authenticity. To be genuine, the characters in this story had to have brown skin.
This book is a story about people that could have been. It is entirely fiction. I researched the history of the setting to create believable details, but all of the characters and their villages were made up within my own head.
In today’s society, authors are discouraged from writing about races with which they do not share a bloodline. Social media mobs have attacked authors who have broken this perceived rule, causing severe damage to what might have been promising careers. With the possibility of this kind of censure hanging over me, one might ask why I wrote this book.
My skin is white. The Native American blood in my veins is so diluted that it hardly counts.
But imagination gives humanity the power of empathy, to learn by observation and education instead of by our own experience. My skin does not have to be brown for me to empathize with marginalized people. It is my hope that people of all skin colors can find beauty within these pages. I hope that my readers can feel the love I feel for my two brothers and my two sisters who do not look like me.