New book introduces 21st century Alaska Native children

Kids bridge the gap between centuries old and modern-day cultures

Aaliyah Tiedeman, one of 10 Alaska Native children featured in "Children of the First People", explores the protective breakwater of Cordova's small boat harbor. (Photo by Roy Corral)

In many ways, Aaliyah Tiedeman is a typical young girl growing up in a coastal Alaska fishing town, with a passion for subsistence hunting and fishing, and, ah yes, basketball.

And when she’s old enough, Tiedeman, the daughter of Nick and Sara Tiedeman of Cordova, hopes to compete for the honor of being Miss Iceworm in the annual Iceworm Festival.

Beyond that, Tiedeman, who is proud of her Eyak heritage, and will compete in the Native Youth Olympics April 25-27 in Anchorage, hopes one day to be a sports medicine doctor.

Tiedeman was one of 10 Alaska Native kids chosen to represent 10 Native cultures in the new book “Children of the First People,” with profiles by Tricia Brown and photos by Roy Corral.

Tricia Brown

Nine other children profiled in the book represent Inupiat, Yup’ik, Haida, Athabascan, Unangax (Aleut), Tlingit, Alutiiq, Tsimshian and Siberian Yupik cultures.

On Friday, May 3, Brown will visit with students at Mt. Eccles Elementary School for an author’s presentation of this and several other books she has written. That evening Brown, Corral and Tiedeman will present and sign books at 6 p.m. at the Fireplace Nook of the Cordova Public Library.  On Saturday, May 5, Brown, Corral and Tiedeman will be at the Ilanka Center, for an author/photographer talk at 4 p.m., followed by a book signing.

Publication of “Children of the First People” debuts two decades after Brown and Corral first collaborated on their critically acclaimed book “Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska.”

“Children of the Midnight Sun”, published in 1998, was the first book about Alaska Native children written by Tricia Brown, with photographs by Roy Corral. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Brown and Roy Corral)

The two traveled throughout Alaska from 1994 to 1996 to listen to and photograph Alaska Native kids. Both books will be available at their presentations.

When the first book was published, Brown noted, in the introduction of “Children of the First People,” she heard back from traders outside of Alaska who said things like “that girl in the picture … she’s just wearing jeans and a T-shirt like any other kid.”

The cover of “Children of the First People”, with profiles by Tricia Brown and photography by Roy Corral. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Brown and Roy Corral)

In many ways the children featured in this book are just like other kids, but through their profiles and photography, Brown and Corral also note the cultural heritage of these children and the role it plays in their lives. They also note that like many children growing up in Alaska today these children often have a very rich and diverse heritage.

Tiedeman’s father, Nick, has Unangax (Aleut), Tlingit and Athabascan ancestors, while her mother is from the Upper Midwest and is part Chippewa Indian.

Cyanna Bereskin, of Unalaska, representing the Unangax (Aleut) people, is the daughter of a Yup’ik mother and Aleut father. Ethan Spark, of Bethel, Yup’ik, is the grandson of a white, Jewish man from the East Coast who moved to Alaska and married a Cup’ik woman. James William Tsimshian of Metlakatla, is of Tsimshian, Tlingit, Mexican, Irish and Italian heritage, but identifies most with his Tsimshian culture inherited through his mother.

Through their words and photography, Brown and Corral have introduced a group of 21st century Alaska Native children who are proud of their Native heritage, and knowledgeable enough about it to pass on to future generations.

Roy Corral

Along with the children’s stories, in their own words, the book offers a good history lesson for young readers on how Alaska Native children today are finding a balance between their traditional and modern cultures, and some of the many challenges they have faced just over the past 400 years.

Learn more about Brown’s work at triciabrownbooks.com; and Corral’s at roycorral.com.