Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Reader's Diary #1084- Dawn Kostelnik: The White Girl

In the 1960s, Dawn Kostelnik's father got a job as an Indian Agent in Fort Norman, Northwest Territories. Bundling up their four children (Dawn and her three younger brothers) and their Siamese cat, they head into the great white North in the middle of winter. Where they're moving from exactly, isn't made clear, somewhere in Southern Canada, but from that point on she becomes and remains a Northerner, so it's as much origin story as you need.

Today Kostelnik lives in Whitehorse, Yukon where these autobiographical anecdotes first appeared as a weekly feature in The Whitehorse Star. The White Girl is self-published. However, knowing they first appeared in a newspaper, I held onto hope that the stories would not be rife with typos as is typically the case with self-published books. Alas, they were. The most pervasive was the odd spelling of story as storey. This one occurred often and without fail. It got to the point that I suspected it was an artistic thing, referring to a story as a layer, like a storey of a building. However, the number of other typos makes me suspect it's wishful thinking on my part.

If you can get past those, The White Girl is an interesting look at one person's experience in several Northern communities in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes it's unclear from an outsider, through no fault of Kostelnik's, whether one might still experience such things in those communities or if life is drastically different there today. At other times it's very obvious that you would not, like in stories about having only pre-recorded TV broadcasts that were a week old. But details aside, Kostelnik's tough and amusing, sometimes thoughtful, personality is the most engaging aspect of the book. Despite the title, drawing attention to the fact that she was a minority in these towns, I didn't find many stories preoccupied with race (the last one is a notable exception). Life could be rough, for sure, but there was also a lot of laughter and adventure. Kostelnik seems to look back on all of it with affection and gratitude for having shaped the person she became.


4 comments:

Sam Sattler said...

A friend of mine, white, grew up in an American Indian community of some sort in Washington state where his father worked as a logger. Being one of the few white children in the school and camp was tough. Some of the stories he tells me remind me of being the only white prisoner in a prison full of minority population prisoners. The hazing and other harassment was steadily dosed out.

John Mutford said...

Sam: The title of the book though is somewhat misleading, as it makes you think race plays a larger role in the book than I thought it really did. And race may have played a role in a few of the more negative encounters, but it was also complicated by the fact that her family moved around quite a bit, meaning she was also often the new girl in town. Plus, her father was the Indian Agent, and though Kostelnik says he was well liked and respected, he came to town holding a lot of power and represented the fact that the aboriginals were still the minority in the country-at-large. In the final story, Kostelnik was definitely being picked on by aboriginals because of her race, but there's poignancy in the fact that it's also an aboriginal person who comes to her defense.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I would not be able to get past the typos. They succeed in drawing me outside of the story. Yes, I am easily distracted.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I understand and I've been there. For some reason, however, I was able to get past them this time. Maybe the stories were engaging enough to quickly pull me back in, maybe my tolerance level is rising. But your concern is precisely why I felt it necessary to bring the typos up here, hopefully giving a heads up to people such as yourself!