The Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage honored Juneau writer Ernestine Hayes in May as this year’s “Distinguished Artist” for her “lifetime of creative excellence” and her “outstanding contribution to Alaskan arts and culture.” Ernestine tells Sol de Medianoche that “it seems more likely that we are a part of a song being sung to the world” and “only young people can lead us away from the precipice to which capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism have led us. The youth of the world have the answer because they are the answer.”
Ernestine Saankaláxt Hayes, is an essayist and poet. Born in 1945 into the Kaagwaaataan clan, “The House of the Wolf” representing the Eagle side of the Tlingit Nation, Hayes is a retired professor emeritus at the University of Southeast Alaska (UAS) in Juneau. She was “writer laureate” for the state of Alaska from 2016 to 2018.
Ernestine has always expressed an extraordinary sensitivity and love for Mother Earth and Mother Nature. We asked her if she believes young Alaskans share these sentiments: “I believe that today’s youth possess the human impulse to love the Earth in the same way and to the same degree that we are all born with the impulse to love the one who nurtures us and upon whom we utterly depend. It seems that this mother-child affinity characterizes the relationship between the Earth and her children, just as it does the relationship between the human mother and helpless child. Correspondingly, the human impulse to love our Mother Earth is exceedingly strong in the youth of Alaska and, in fact throughout the whole world in every place and every setting.”
“That impulse exists in all of us,” she adds, “but especially so in many of today’s generations. Capitalism and certain other belief systems deaden our human impulses, but they are capable of reawakening, and it seems that the generations of today have come to that knowledge sooner and in greater numbers.”
“The muse will come” Ernestine Hayes used to tell her students: “the muse will come, but she has to find you working.” However, she considers it more likely that “we are one part of a song singing itself to the world. Sometimes I think we hold the pen or the brush and sense the life around us and call it inspiration.” About Alaska Native youth, Ernestine believes that when they mobilize, like “any youth throughout the world,” for equal opportunity, fight against Climate Change, or search for justice, they are battling for survival. This is the fight of their lives and of ours as well. Only young people of today can lead us away from the precipice to which capitalism, patriarchy, White supremacy, colonialism, have led us. Youth of the world have the answer because they are the answer.”
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