Yakutat, Alaska: After he graduated from Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, Bertrand J Adams Sr., who writes under his Tlingit name, Kadashan, didn’t want to go to college.
Two of his friends—one of whom was his boss at the time, and to whom he looked up to as a father figure—encouraged him enroll at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka.
“I said, ‘No, I’m fine. I’m happy. I have a good job and a good paycheck,’” he said.
His boss talked him into investing in savings bonds. In time (4-5 years) he had about $2500.00, and less of an excuse not to go.
“I moved over to the campus and started classes there,” he said. “And within two weeks of being there, I was convinced I was going to finish my education.”
Mentors had a lot to do with what he spent his time doing in college as well. His creative writing teacher, Nellie Ottie, was about to retire, but Kadashan was writing outside the classroom, and she took an interest in what he was doing, he said. He wrote twelve stories that semester “from the top of my head,” he said.
For the two years he was at Sheldon Jackson they worked together. Then he returned to his home of Yakutat, got married, and entered a ready-made family— with this marriage he gained five stepchildren. Soon he and his wife had three more children.
Twenty years later, Ottie tracked him down and came to Yakutat for a day to visit, staying twice as long as she intended to so that she could finish reading and editing his stories. She encouraged him to send them to publishers, something that resulted in “a stack of rejection slips thicker than the manuscripts itself,” he said. “I got discouraged.”
Then one day he was at Mallott’s store in Yakutat and picked up a copy of the Alaska Native Magazine started by Rosita Worl, now president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, Alaska.
He called Worl and asked if she might be interested in some his stories. The magazine ended up publishing several of them. He also wrote a political commentary for the Tundra Times and a regular column for the Juneau Empire for about six years; eventually he ended up publishing his fiction and a collection of essays himself.
This book does offer and illuminating look into the life in Yakutat over the years. Some of the stories in “Yaakwdaat Aya”—“Xoots” is my favorite—are quite affecting. As those familiar with the meaning of Admiralty Island’s Tlingit name, Kootzoowoo, will know Xoots means brown bear. The story takes place right around the time Alaska became a state, something the characters in this story don’t seem so sure was a good idea.
Other stories are more about aspects of town and family life. A young man tries to figure out who he will marry; a young couple tries to figure out how to tell each other they love each other; a young man ( a teenager) struggles with how to continue after his father’s death; an uncle makes two squabbling brothers smile, and an old man deals with the probability that he has cancer.
“He shows his greatest strength when he writes of the common, ordinary events in village life” Worl wrote in the introduction. “Kadashan’s stories reveal an intimate knowledge as well as love of village life”
The new edition of Yaakwdaat Aya is illustrated with his own paintings. He learned to oil paint from a friend of his father’s when he was about 9, and they were all fishing in the Dry Bay area (about 60 miles from Yakutat).
“We went along the beach, cut up pieces of plywood into squares and rectangles, and covered it with white lead,” he said. “That’s when he started teaching me how to oil paint.”
The novel he working on now is about a white man coming into Yakutat in the 30’s and 40’s, wanting “to become a part of the history and culture of this area.”(At the same time the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska were working toward recognition as U.S. citizens.
Two of the other books are “When Raven Cries,” about a man who returns from boarding school convinced his people’s history and culture are worthless, and “The Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” which is a collection of essays.
One of his favorite authors is Cicero, a Roman philosopher and politician.
“He said the natural law (according to Cicero) was the Creator’s way of managing things,” Kadashan said. “When people start going against it bad things happen.”
His faith—Kadashan is Mormon—is important to him.
“Your beliefs and your faith come out in certain ways,” he said. “You don’t promote any type of religion, but you can tell—your faith is a part of your life.”
About a dozen years after Sheldon Jackson, he went to Brigham Young University for his last three years of college.
“I majored in English, of course,” he said.
His books are available on Amazon.
Mary Catherine Martin, Staff Writer
Capital City Weekly, Juneau Empire
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Kadashan was born in Sitka, Alaska. His grandmother named him after her father, John Kadashan. The elder Kadashan was known by historians as Chief Kadashan, however in his later years he was regarded as a “peace-maker.” When he was only six months old his father drowned in a hunting accident. His mother decided to move back to her hometown of Yakutat, where she married his step-father. After his elementary school years in Yakutat he went “outside” to Holland High School in Holland Michigan and later to Mount Edgecumbe Boarding School near Sitka in Alaska. Kadashan did not start looking into writing before attending a creative writing class at Sheldon Jackson College. And even then, it wasn’t until during his time at Brigham Young that he learned the real discipline of writing. In 1992 he self-published a collection of short stories. For six years he worked as a columnist for the Juneau Empire and a statewide Native newspaper, the Tundra Times.
He learned a lot about tribal issues when he worked as the Tribal President of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. He drew from his experiences to write about politics for the Empire.
Kadashan is a contemporary author who draws his inspiration from the oral traditions of his Tlingit people. Of course, because of his Tlingit heritage, he is strongly influenced by traditional oral narratives, which stem from his education at Sheldon Jackson College and Brigham Young University, his work also reflects influences from Western Culture. Kadashan should not be regarded as an author torn between two poles, but rather as a mediator and like his great grandfather, Kadashan, is through his writings it is evident that he is also a “peace maker”.
University of Frankfort