“They can’t be taking that little girl in there — really.”
Those were the whispered words that Dawn Kostelnik heard as a child in the 1960s before she boarded a plane to Fort Norman, N.W.T, where her father was hired by the Canadian Government as an Indian agent, and where she would live with her family for the next two years, before moving further North.
It was a cold New Year’s Eve in Edmonton, and Kostelnik didn`t know what to expect living 200 km south of the Arctic Circle.
54 years later, Dawn Kostelnik has self-published two books about her experience, The White Girl and The Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor.
“I first started with Audrey Eleanor as a one-time story in the Whitehorse Star,” Kostelnik says. “But people wanted to read more. So I kept writing the stories of Audrey Eleanor, followed by The White Girl. And then I decided to publish it. I did self-publishing because I am using people’s real names.”
With great detail and humour she describes her life in the North.
Through Kostelnik’s stories, readers vicariously experience seal-hunting and cannibalism.
“I just have a bizarre memory,” Kostelnik says with a laugh, when asked how she can remember so many stories from her childhood.
In The White Girl, she describes her life in the North as ancient, a part of living history.
She saw “what will never be seen again, ate food and lived a life that will not happen again.
“The territory has changed a lot. They went from dog-sledding to vehicle. Even as a little girl I knew this way of life was slipping away.
“Being a minority was the most challenging thing,” she says. “I was the white girl, called mola’tu — We/twa, in the language of North Slavey of the Sahtu Dene,” Kostelnik tells.
“We didn`t have a television, or a library, but I had an appetite for books so I read all I could get from comic books to schoolbooks on Canadian History,” she writes in The White Girl.
“Growing up so far North made me independent,” Kostelnik says. “I learned to be responsible for my own actions, you didn’t expect anyone to come and rescue you.”
These became life-skills that she used later as a single mom.
“Moving to Whitehorse at the age of 16 felt very strange,” she says. “I had a strong Northern accent and it took four years to smooth my speech and get it out, but it returns to my tongue every time I am tired or talk to people from the Mackenzie River.”
In The White Girl Kostelnik describes Whitehorse as “a friendly city that welcomes all Northerners and celebrates them in their differences.”
“And I still feel that way about Whitehorse,” Kostelnik says.
In 2006 she ran away, with her kids’ permission, to live on an old wooden boat with a sweetheart of her youth.
This boat is The Audrey Eleanor and is the main character in Dawn’s book; a custom-built fifty-four foot 1948 wooden yacht of the same name.
“Being out on the water inspired me to write,” Kostelnik says.
From rats on the boat to pirates and whales, The Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor leads the reader on a great journey, experienced from the comfort of a chair.
The White Girl and The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor are available at Mac’s Fireweed Books for $19.95 each.
Visit her website at www.thewhitegirl.ca.