Monday, October 15, 2012

When People Look at me I Wish They Saw

This week I was instructed to do a free write, but it must begin with the phrase "when people look at me I wish they saw...."

I used to think: when people look at me I wish they saw a small pink wildflower
Aqpik means salmonberry
Nauyak means seagull
Pamiuqtak means fireweed.

"Do you know everybody's Inupiaq name?" I asked Sigaurak in awe, as she picked her nieces and nephews and neighbors up one by one and called them by their Inupiaq name, their real name, their name rarely said. "I try to, and I try to call them by it. Do you have an Inupiaq name?" I shook my head and she continued to look into my eyes as she thought, I used to think, of the animal that I most closely resembled. "Allaitchaq," she said finally.
"What does it mean?!" I asked in wonder. Had she named me after an animal, a plant, or a bend in the river?
"It's just a name! Allaitchaq was the name of Hannah Gallahorn, the Reich's late grandmother. She was a wonderful woman, very active in establishing the education here in Kotzebue."

I tried to hide my disappointment
Aqpik means salmonberry,
Nauyak means seagull,
Allaitchaq is just a name.

The next time someone asked me if I had an Inupiaq name, I lied. At a basketball game, Argagiak and I began to talk about names. I asked him to give me one. He narrowed his eyes and the corners of his mouth turned down, after a while he said "Allaitchaq. After Hannah Gallahorn, one of the great elders, her portrait is in the cafeteria."
I didn't have to ask what it meant. 

It took me three years to find my utting. Last summer I tagged along one afternoon to camp with a friend. Climbing in his boat, I realized across the bow was my name, Hannah, after his ahna Hannah Gallahorn. On the beach across the sound I saw her old camp. Her grandson shared stories with me about being young at camp with Hannah.

Later that night I walked down the beach to a neighboring camp to meet my friend, camping out with her cousins and making smores. The little girls were excited about something as I walked up. One girl emerged from the group and my friend said, "Hey Hannah, this is my friend Hannah, she's your ut." Hannah smiled shyly at me and gave me a hug.

Aqpik means salmonberry
Nauyak means seagull
Allaitchaq connects me with a place through the wisdom and kindness that has come before me. It connects me with all the people who were touched by Hannah Gallahorn, and it connects me to generations in the future. It gives me something to honor.


  1. When people look at me I wish they saw my passion. I sometimes get so overwhelmed with all that I want to help with but do not have the time to or the support to reach as far as I'd like. I wish people saw and empathized with what I believed enough for them to join in with me and fight the fight along my side.

    When people look at me I wish they saw how much I want them to speak out and how much it can help not only me, but themselves too.

  2. Hannah, reading this made me cry. Your writing is so elegant and careful and I can tell it comes from you, and its honesty cut right through me. I love you so much and I'm so proud of you and Jacqui for being beautiful and brave and selfless enough to share yourselves.

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