A memoir about working as a cultural tour guide in rural Alaska.
This remembrance of working briefly as a guide in remote Alaska may prove a bit too academic for biography fans and a bit too straightforward to intrigue the literary crowd. Now an anthropologist (more properly, a “project ethnographer”) at Simon Fraser University, Bunten wrote this diary of sorts while she was studying for her doctorate at UCLA. There, she discovered the ferocious system that guides students to certain inevitable ends. “This brand of liberal, elite discrimination disguised as privilege followed me to graduate school,” she writes, “where my advisers in the anthropology department insisted that because I’m Alaska Native, I would have to conduct original research in Alaska….Working for a tribe I’m not related to, in a place I’ve never lived, would have to be proxy for ‘real’ anthropology, the kind where the intrepid explorer travels to an exotic destination to live among strangers in a strange land.” Bunten landed a job with Tribal Tours, a small company in Sitka, Alaska, that focuses on the multifaceted Tlingit people. From here, she walks readers through the strange process of being a tour guide, which includes catering to mobs of ill-informed cruise-ship passengers, cracking bad jokes to skirt issues like cultural genocide, and developing an alternative persona to deal with questions like, “Do you live in a house?” There is also a lot of history, cultural anthropology and a little self-searching about her place among a people who only loosely share her heritage, as well as working in a business that is torn between the economic realities of tourism and the desire to offer visitors a genuine experience that reflects the nature of the Tlingit people. Bunten provides some value for invested readers, but generalists may find this equivalent to reading an intern’s autobiography.
This “Tour Guide Confidential” just doesn’t have quite the same zest as other memoirs of this nature.