Julie of the Wolves

by Jean George

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Miyax, the Girl

Miyax was barely four when her mother died. Her father Kapugen, overcome by grief, walked away from his job and possessions in the Alaskan village of Mekoryuk that day and retreated to seal camp with his young daughter. There, the two lived in a "little house of driftwood, not far from the beach." To Miyax, those years with her father had been "infinitely good."

The denizens of seal camp lived in close harmony with nature. Miyax was immersed in the "old ways," the traditional culture of the Eskimos. The seals sustained the people and were honored during the celebration of the "Bladder Feast," when the bladders containing the spirits of animals harvested that season were returned to the sea. In addition to teaching her about the seals, Kapugen, who was known as a great hunter and understood the ways of all wild creatures, told his young daughter stories about wolves he had known on the mainland, impressing upon her that

Wolves are brotherly...they love each other, and if you learn to speak to them, they will love you too.

Miyax's idyllic life with her father was cut short when Kapugen's aunt, Martha, appeared at seal camp one day. Martha spoke angrily and at length with Kapugen in English, a language which Miyax barely understood. The next morning, Kapugen gently broke the news to his daughter that she was going to have to go and live with Aunt Martha in Mekoryuk. Kapugen explained to Miyax that there was a law that said that she must go to school and that he himself would have to go to war somewhere for the government. He also told Miyax that if anything happened to him, she could leave Aunt Martha, if she chose, by marrying Daniel, the son of his good friend Naka. Miyax went to live in the village of Mekoryuk with her aunt, where she was called by an English name, Julie Edwards.

Julie was given a small cot at her aunt's house, and she attended school, where she enjoyed learning to speak English and to read. After a month had passed, a man from seal camp came to visit, and when he left, Aunt Martha told her that Kapugen had gone hunting in his kayak and had not returned. Julie ran down to the sea and called out to her father, but there was no answer.

As time passed, Julie was able to accept the loss of her father. She began to try to fit in with the people of Mekoryuk, who were quite Americanized, and often critical of her Eskimo ways. After a year, she was reading and writing well in English. She enjoyed corresponding with her pen pal, Amy, who lived in San Francisco. In their weekly letters, Amy told Julie about things like television and blue jeans, and sent her pictures of herself, and of her family's home. At the end of her letters, Amy often invited Julie to come to live with them in San Francisco.

There was no high school at Mekoryuk, and although children in more affluent families went to the mainland to continue their education, Julie knew that Aunt Martha could not afford to send her. Aunt Martha was a difficult, controlling woman, and Julie was not happy staying with her, so when the head of the local Bureau of Indian Affairs appeared at the house, asking if she would like to honor the agreement for an arranged marriage drawn up by Kapugen and Naka, she decided to accept.

Julie was taken in a series of small planes from Mekoryuk to Barrow in the northern part of Alaska. When she first saw Daniel, her husband-to-be, she was shocked to perceive, from his vacant...

(This entire section contains 1062 words.)

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grin and dull eyes, that "something was wrong with him." Nusan, Naka's wife, acknowledged that "Daniel [had] a few problems," but assured Julie that he would be "like a brother" to her. The wedding was held as planned; afterwards, Daniel kept to himself for the most part, and Julie spent the rest of the summer helping Nusan make parkas and mittens to be sold to the tourists.

In the fall, Julie returned to school and was befriended by Pearl Norton, a tall Eskimo girl who sometimes took her to a local hangout frequented by the young people. Pearl also had been a child bride, but she explained to Julie that "most of these arrangements [were] for convenience," and that if the "kids" were unhappy with them, all they had to do was run away.

Julie became acclimated to her situation in Barrow, and summer arrived again before she knew it. Nusan took full advantage of the extra pair of hands in the house and kept her young daughter-in-law busy making items for her business. Julie knew that Naka, who, like so many Eskimo men had no way of making a livelihood in the city, often drank and sometimes beat Nusan. One evening, Nusan came home and announced that Naka was in jail and that she would have to go and fetch him.

While Nusan was gone, Daniel came in and uncharacteristically began shouting at Julie. Daniel was angry because some of the boys in the area were laughing at him, saying that "he [had] a wife and he [couldn't] mate her." He roughly seized Julie and kissed her grossly on the mouth; when she tried to get away, he tore her dress and knocked her to the floor. Daniel raped Julie, and when he was done, he ran out of the house, "bleat[ing] piteously...'I can, I can.'"

When Daniel was gone, Julie rose, dressed in warm clothes, and packed her ulo, or woman's knife, and some matches. She then went to Pearl's house, where she asked for food, needles, a sleeping skin, and a ground cloth. Julie told Pearl that she was leaving and assured her that she would be all right: her father Kapugen was a great hunter and had taught her much. Declaring to herself that she was not Julie anymore, but Miyax, she then walked alone onto the tundra, heading for San Francisco.


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