ETOK: A Story of Eskimo Power by H. G. Gallagher

ETOK: A Story of Eskimo Power

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Meet Charles Edwardsen, Jr., from Point Barrow, Alaska. Etok to his Inupiat brethren. Etok is a thirty-year-old, alcoholic Eskimo freedom fighter with a stutter and an ""uncontrollable rage at life itself."" A loner, he has little to do with the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) or other local civil rights organizations. But author Gallagher bestows on him no small share of the credit for the passage, in 1971, of the Alaska Native Claims Bill, under which the aboriginal population of that state received title to some 40 million acres of land. Since his early twenties, Etok has been a blustering, ranting, two-fisted lobbyist for Eskimo rights: he's made speeches around the country and on TV, he's button-holed Congressmen and worked for a time on the Washington staff of a former Alaska senator; in moments of frenzy he's smashed furniture and blackened the eyes of opponents and friends alike. An inspired leader. Gallagher suspects he is a native shaman -- Etok has charisma -- even though anthropologists say that shamanism has long since died out on the Northern Slope. What he really is is a lost and psychically divided young man stranded between the old self-sufficient icebound culture of his forefathers and the technological affluence of White America. Etok, or Charlie, is trapped in a bitter paradox: ""It seemed the richer the people got -- electricity, telephones, heat -- the more dependent they became. You cannot pay your light bill with a dead seal."" Not that Gallagher has any solution for Etok or his people. Not that Etok has much of a viewpoint either, except, evidently, the desire to get a piece of the action from the now defunct War on Poverty, and a share of the limelight for himself. The book does have the virtue of sketching, haphazardly, the recent and embryonic political organization among Alaska's Eskimo population. For the rest, it's not so much a biography as the life-history of a primal force or scream.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1974
Publisher: Putnam