For 42 years, James A. Starkey, Jr. was a successful teacher in the Bellevue School District, a suburb of Seattle, primarily teaching English and the Social Sciences. He retired from full-time employment in June 2001 but continued honing his teaching skills by returning part-time and teaching a motivational class entitled Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). In 1970, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and achieved the Master’s Level in Education in 1984. After retirement, he returned to Graduate School and earned another MAEd, this time focusing on American Indian Studies, Native Worldview & Philosophy, and Traditional Teaching Methodologies.
James began his career as an elementary teacher in 1972 and during that time wrote several plays: The most notable being Mourning Comes at Dawn, the life story of famed Lakota Chief Sitting Bull; and The Spirit: An American Tragedy, an eclectic multi-media presentation documenting the plight of the indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada. The Spirit earned for him the Valley Forge Teacher’s Medal: A medal awarded for “contributions to youth in the highest tradition of our free nation.”
James is a “mixed-blood” Ojibwe/Anishinaabe Indian and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Pembina Band. His father, a “half-breed,” is from the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota. Though James is from a bi-cultural family, his Native heritage was somewhat hidden from him in his early years because of the racial intolerance towards Indians that his father had experienced as a young person.
This fact has been a major impetus behind the writing of Back to the Blanket: It being an attempt to understand the forces that shaped past generations, and which ultimately molded his father’s personality. Both James and his father have come to grips with their individual journeys as Native Americans, and this narrative chronicles in some ways their separate but converging roads to enlightenment.
In the fall of 1988, James was stricken with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). For 45 days, he was isolated in a bacteria-free room undergoing a bone marrow transplant, and that experience, along with the heavy regimen of chemo-therapy and radiation, induced several real, Dream-like visions that planted the seeds of his current project.
He researched and wrote the manuscript over 14 years: Compiling family documents, stories, and cultural and language materials to blend together in a powerful unfolding of his family and the Ojibwe Nation.
Mr. Starkey served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam Era as a Naval Flight Officer, as well as in the United States Army Reserve from 1980 – 1988, serving in Military Intelligence, and a Chinook helicopter transportation unit. Both of these experiences have added great breadth to his understanding of this country, its place in the world and American ideology.
James continues his teaching career today at the college and university level. He is an Adjunct Professor of Education at Antioch University Seattle and teaches several American Indian courses at Bellevue College and other local venues.
James has been married for 55 years to his high school sweetheart, Janie, whom he met in kindergarten, and has two adult children.