There is nobody here but me; I am all alone. Ada Blackjack, 1923
At the turn of the 20th century, Arctic exploration was equivalent to today’s space exploration. Sponsored by the experienced explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, four young explorers, along with an Alaskan Inuit seamstress, Ada Blackjack, set out to explore Wrangell Island in 1921, which is located between Alaska and Russia. Ada consents to go along with many misgivings, including her own inadequate skills in traditional life. She had been raised in a Mennonite mission school, where she learned skills that the white society valued. The one traditional skill she learned was how to sew furs into clothing. Her only motivation for joining the expedition was to earn money to better finance the care for her son, who had tuberculosis. This motivation would determine her desire to survive and accomplish heroic actions. None of the expedition’s crew were prepared for subsistence living off the desolate island. As their health and situation became more desperate, three of the explorers set off for Russia over the frozen ice, never to be heard of again. Ada has to learn how to hunt and care for Lorne Knight, the sickest of the young explorers, who was dying of scurvy. When she is rescued two years later, she is all alone, except for a pet cat. She became known as the Female Robinson Crusoe and was in the media for the rest of life, often having to defend her actions and the truth about what happened on the island.
This is the newest book in the Women in Action series which recounts the amazing accomplishments of women throughout history. Where other books in this series include many women in specific areas (science, innovation), this book focuses primarily on one woman, Ada Blackjack’s life. Each chapter focuses on the life of each of the characters in this true tale; their sponsor, the four male explorers, and Ada, herself. Quotes from the explorers’ journals and Ada’s own journal and personal memories, along with the historical photographs/documents brings each of these historical figures to life as real, flawed, but courageous human beings. The extensive Notes at the end of the book provides readers with resources used in researching this book. A map of Wrangel Island and placement in the Arctic helps to orient readers to the setting of this biography. The Author’s Note at the beginning of the book explains her purpose in writing the book and in her choice to use the term Eskimo, versus the term, Inuit, which was the common terminology used at the time of her story. There is no reference to which Inuit tribe Ada Blackjack belonged to in this book.
This book is highly recommended for the Alberta Social Studies curriculum in addressing aboriginal and multiple perspectives for grades 5-12.