Colonization: Territory and Culture
The Eskimo girl, along with her grandmother and the old man, represent a culture withering under the press of U.S. interests. Clearly dominant in the area are the "Gussucks," probably most of whom are U.S. citizens of European descent, who are in Bethel for the business of oil, pelts, fishing, and so forth. Bethel, of course, is official U.S. territory, and at the time that this story takes place, it is where many U.S. citizens are at "home." The region's annexation by the United States marked, for the indigenous peoples, the beginning of the end—or at least the massive disturbance—of what had been up until then largely uninterrupted tradition. The Inuit and Aleut (Eskimo) populations of the Alaskan region had no choice but to submit to the laws of the territory's conquerors.
That the traditional Eskimo way of life continues to slowly but steadily wither is subtly indicated throughout "Storyteller." For example, when the girl goes to school she appears to be the only student who even thinks to rebel against foreign ways. Yet, clearly, the school is a Englishspeaking school for Eskimo students run by the U.S. government: The dormitory matron pulled down her underpants and whipped her with a leather belt because she refused to speak English. ‘‘Those backward village people,’’ the matron said, because she was an Eskimo who had worked for the BIA a long time,' 'they kept this one until she was too big too learn.’’ The other girls whispered in English. They knew how to work the showers, and they washed and curled their hair at night. They ate Gussuck food. This passage demonstrates the manner in which Eskimos who have adopted U.S. ways and language might go so far as to internalize racist opinions about their own culture. Hence, the Eskimo matron refers to the village people as "backward." As for the other Eskimo girls at the school, they appear to have adopted the English language and U.S. styles and habits without question; they even whisper amongst themselves in English.
"Storyteller" is eloquent testimony to what happened following the colonization of the Americas by Europeans; namely, the decimation of indigenous ways of life and therefore of entire cultures. In this light, the approaching, obliterating, white and "final" winter that the girl expects is a metaphor for the European blanketing and cultural smothering of the indigenous American populations. This unfortunate history of empire and colonization is recently the subject of much study and debate. Up until mid-century, history books tended to recount this history in terms of an European colonization...
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