Dreaming Bears, by J. Michael Holloway
Dreaming Bears (208 pages) is the true story of the rare friendship that develops between a young medical student with deep roots in the South and an elderly Indian couple in the wilds of northeast Alaska. In 1961, Mike Holloway, his brother Ted, and a college friend set out from South Carolina to spend the summer hiking in Arctic Alaska, intending to live off the land. They end up in the homeland of the Gwich’in – the northernmost Indians in North America.
The young men charter a small plan into the isolated village of Venetie, where the tribal chief directs them to the remote cabins of Johnny and Sarah Frank. The elderly Gwich’in couple lived a thirty-five-mile walk from the village and more than a hundred air miles from the closest road. Johnny was a well-known storyteller and former medicine man. Sarah made their home welcoming with warm, calm kindness – her well-worn hands seldom idle.
His rich encounters in Gwich’in country deepen Mike’s love of wild land and his respect for those who depend upon it for their survival. The experience alters his life. Mike becomes the adopted grandson of Johnny and Sarah, returning to Alaska as a doctor and advocate for the land and its people.
“In this wonderful wildness adventure memoir, Holloway recollects his time as first year medical student from South Carolina who decides to embark on what would become a life-changing summer adventure to the backcountry of northern Alaska in 1961. Traveling with his brother and a classmate, they are guided to the isolated camp of an 81-year-old Gwich’in Indian medicine-man named Johnny Frank. They end up spending their trip with the storyteller and his wife, Sarah, hunting and fishing, helping with camp chores, and learning the pleasures and hardships of living off the land. Over years, Holloway returns, developing a deep, meaningful, and life-long relationship with Johnny and Sarah Frank, who come to consider him a grandson. He goes on to practice medicine in Alaska before moving to Washington, D.C. to become a lobbyist who advocates environmental issues and the interests of Alaska’s native people. Holloway’s memoir is an invigorating tale of high-adventure and sturdy self-reliance. It provides an intimate glimpse into life in the Alaskan wilderness and the lives of the remote Gwich’in people. Moreover, it preserves a collection of the stories, memories, and mythology from a Gwich’in elder that might otherwise have been lost with his passing. 24 b&w photos.”
—Publisher’s Weekly STARRED Review, May 2014
“The fight to save the calving grounds of the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the great environmental issues of our time. It is also a fight to save the Gwich’in – the northernmost Indians in North America who depend on the caribou to sustain their way of life, which has existed since time immemorial. Mike Holloway’s book based on his experiences with an elderly Gwich’in couple illuminates the Gwich’in way of life and provides the reader with an understanding on why both the caribou and the Gwich’in need to be saved.”
–John E. Echohawk, Executive Director, Native American Rights Fund
“This book provides a vivid accounting of life in Gwich’in country from the 1960s to the 1990s, and respectfully presents Native traditions and storytelling. By experiencing the Franks and their lifestyle through Holloway’s eyes, the reader gains a true sense of the place, the people, and their way of life…. This is a well-written account of a period in Alaska’s history that no longer exists. A time when Gwich’in were still living on the land, making skin covered canoes, suffering hardship and shortages as well celebrating plenty. It is an important documentation of history, but also shows us how much we can learn from each other as human beings, no matter our cultures or our ages…. While other work has been done with Johnny and Sarah Frank… this book is a unique contribution to the existing knowledge…. None of the previous works are as fresh and personal as Dreaming Bears.”
–Karen Brewster, Fairbanks, Alaska History Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1
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