DiversifYA: Tawney Bland

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Today on the blog, we have a fantastic interview to share with you all! Set partly in a location where one of my WIPs is set–and a location I’d love to visit someday. So join us as Tawney talks about being a blonde Eskimo, and finding part of her heritage in Alaska.

Tawney is one half of a twin author duo. She writes YA and is a wonderful and constant supporter of the community! Once you’ve read this interview, you really should follow her on Twitter or via her blog.

1. How do you identify yourself? 

I identify myself as a blonde Eskimo.

2. What did it feel like growing up as a blonde Eskimo?     

I never really knew I was Eskimo until I was older. When I was a kid I thought I was just Swedish. My Mom’s side was very tan and I just thought they lay in the sun too much. I never realized there was a whole part of me that existed up north in Alaska.

In Junior High I really got into my heritage and asked questions. My Mom lived in Nome, Alaska where my Aunts and other family still live. My Mom had grown up where the sun never sets in the summer and it only rises for 2 hours in winter. It is a harsh environment but Eskimos know how to live there. This is the attire a lot of Eskimos wear in the winter via my Mom when she was little.

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This was a whole new culture that I embraced and loved. Still, it was hard when I told people my heritage and they just shook their head because I was blonde Caucasian. My Dad’s side is Swedish and My Grandma married a Swede, hence the blonde hair. But if you look closely I have the eyes and cheeks of an Eskimo. I didn’t really think about it much until people question it. We take many trips to Alaska whether it’s by cruise or flying to the tiny town of Nome. I have seen bears, moose and whales. My Aunt’s house looks right into the Bering Sea and we can see many ocean animals. The Iditarod race ends in Nome, Alaska as well. The dogs run right past my Aunt’s house!

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

One challenge is that I don’t look Eskimo. Blonde and green eyed you would never think I had Native American blood running through my veins. No one believed me what I told them I was Eskimo. It doesn’t matter I have a BIA card, Bureau of Indian Affairs. They laughed thinking it was a ridiculous lie. I have enough Eskimo blood in me to qualify as a Native Alaskan. When in reality there are a lot of Blonde blue-eyed Eskimos in Alaska. It is quite common. I had scholarships from the Native Eskimo Scholarship fund that helped immensely. I can get free health care if I choose to live in Alaska. My Mom and Aunts meet once a year for the Arizona Eskimo Conference here in phoenix to talk about the happenings in Alaska and in Arizona for Native Alaskans. They get free gifts such as Alaskan Airline tickets.

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But there is still prejudice. When I was visiting my Aunt my sister, Kristen, and I came across a cute husky dog. Kristen said “Hi Cute dog!” The girl immediately barreled forward as if to protect her dog. She curled her lip and yelled, “She don’t like white meat!” We were stunned. We both looked at each other trying to digest if this was real. The girl had hazel eyes and auburn hair! We ran home in tears letting our Aunt know what happened. The girl actually followed us! Our Aunt told us we had more Eskimo blood combined than that girl. It made us feel better but I still question myself when I fill out applications for school or work. I wonder should I put Caucasian or Alaskan Native?

4. What do you wish people knew about being a blonde Eskimo?

Don’t look on the outward appearance of a person. It is such a diverse nation that many people have mixed heritage. I recently had a Hispanic man call me racist because of my appearance. I was simply trying to help him out. I finally told him that I am also Eskimo and he was being racist for thinking that by my appearance I was only white. It felt good and he actually apologized. It happens and everyone does it. Just step back and think before you speak.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

The biggest stereotype that bugs the hell out of me is that Eskimo’s live in igloos. This is rare. Sure Alaskan Natives build some igloos for fun or those rare few who live in the wild. But it is not common, at all. In Canada’s Central Artic for the first nation people it is more common or Greenland’s Thula area. Please don’t write that they live in igloos. Eskimo live in houses and cabins. They drive snow machines or cars.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

My advice for writers on diverse characters is to write about diverse characters! Don’t be afraid. I have one novel called Descent where the main character is an Eskimo boy in space. I have another one that is about a Hispanic girl traveling back in time to Scotland. Keep an open mind because diverse characters bring something unique to the story. I love diversity!

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One Response to DiversifYA: Tawney Bland

  1. I loved this! I did not realize that blonde Eskimos are fairly common in Alaska, so thank you for sharing that. My husband is 1/8 Native American, which is not much, but we live in a heavily hispanic area and people frequently start speaking Spanish to him. It’s just interestng the assumptions we make.