THE ALASKA NATIVE READER HISTORY, CULTURE, POLITICS
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-4480-3
Chapter One Portraits of Nations: Telling Our Own Story
Part I of this volume provides new perspectives on indigenous languages and history by a variety of contributors. The first essay, "Lazeni 'linn Nataelde Ghadghaande: When Russians Were Killed at 'Roasted salmon Place' (Batzulnetas)," is from an oral narrative by the Ahtna elders Katie and Fred John. I felt strongly that the first essay in this volume should be in one of the twenty Alaska Native languages so readers can get a sense of the worldview of Alaska Native people. The next essay, "The Fur Rush: A Chronicle of Colonial life," is by Solovjova and Vovnyanko, two Russian scholars, and is an excerpt from a larger work. It reflects the exploration and subsequent colonization of parts of Alaska from a Russian perspective. History cannot be understood from one perspective, so these first two essays provide important divergent views.
That Alaska has over two hundred villages and twenty different languages is often overlooked and Alaska Native people are mistakenly viewed as monolithic. Part I will hopefully dispel that idea. Other essays address Alaska Native languages, correct misconceptions that indigenous people were not planners, describe the rich history of the city of Anchorage, and retell a story from the perspective of a young Native boy growing up in Alaska during the 1930s.
In too many instances Native stories and histories have been told by non-Native observers who do not speak the language or have an incomplete understanding of indigenous cultures and societies. Alaska has twenty languages; exciting work is being done on them at the university level by Alaska Native linguists. Jeane Breinig (Haida), Beth Ginondidoy Leonard (Deg Xinag), Walkie Kumaggaq Charles (Yup'ik), and George Kanaqlak Charles (Yup'ik) have written essays that directly address indigenous languages. Language is a window into a particular worldview and provides a means for understanding indigenous people. Beth Leonard uses deg Xinag Athabascan narratives to illustrate the relationship between language and society and the subtle art of translating Seg Xinag to English. She carefully describes the nuanced terms of Deg Xinag and thus makes the connection to that culture. Walkie Charles addresses the role of indigenous language teachers and linguists at the university level; he teaches Yup'ik at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where he focuses on the experiences of Yup'ik students learning their language in a western setting instead of a community setting. Jeane Breinig has been involved with Haida language revitalization and her essay provides an optimistic view of how endangered languages can be saved. George Charles's essay includes several narratives that illustrate Yup'ik culture and history. The Yup'ik language, like many indigenous languages, has no "he" or "she" and is gender neutral. Professor Charles also discusses the importance of names and the naming process within the Yup'ik or Yupiaq social protocols, thus providing a new way of understanding societies.
The part also contains an essay addressing the concept of planning from a western versus an indigenous perspective. Charlene stern (Netsaii Gwich'in Athabascan) counters and corrects the ethnocentric idea that her people were not planners. In "Redefining our Planning Traditions," she provides a detailed description of how the Gwich'in Athabascan planned and executed vital hunting expeditions so that they could survive in an Arctic environment.
In "Dena'ina Elnena: Denan'ina Country: The Dena'ina in Anchorage, Alaska," James Fall gives a wonderful account of how the Dena'ina lived in the area now known as Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. The Dena'ina Athabascans occupied the site before the city was established in 1915 and remained there until World War II. Fall's essay should be read by all residents of Anchorage because it describes a rich heritage and contains remarkable photos of the first residents.
Maria Bolanz's "Memories of My Trapline" is based on a true story, retold from the perspective of a young boy who experienced life in the 1930s, a period in which remote areas of Alaska remained relatively untouched by western colonial expansion. The story is at once charming and sad, because the young boy's world was about to change dramatically.
Lazeni 'linn Nataelde Ghadghaande: When Russians Were Killed at "Roasted salmon Place" (Batzulnetas)
James Kari, with Katie and Fred John (Ahtna Athabascan)
Oral history and narrative of Alaska's indigenous people are of paramount importance in terms of understanding their culture and worldview. Since indigenous languages in Alaska were not written, all knowledge was transmitted through oral narratives; these took the form of historical accounts, songs, and legendary history. This oral history, presented in the Ahtna language, one of the twenty indigenous languages spoken in Alaska, tells of one of the first encounters between the Ahtna and the Russians. It is an Upper Ahtna narrative, from a larger work of Upper Ahtna narratives, and has been transcribed in Ahtna and translated into English by James Kari.
In this account Katie and Fred John describe in great detail an altercation on the Upper Copper River between the Ahtna and a group of Russians, perhaps as early as 1794-95. This narrative relates how the Ahtna reacted to an intrusion by a group of Russian explorers, led by a Dena'ina Athabascan guide. The Dena'ina guide aided the Ahtna by purposefully mistranslating the Athabascan into Russian to give the Ahtnas the upper hand. The story illustrates the early colonial period and the indigenous reaction to encroachment by outsiders. The words of the Ahtna narrative about their attack on the Russians, "and the spears fell like frost crystals," are haunting.
Katie and Fred John are Upper Ahtna Athabascan from Mentasta. Fred was the traditional chief of Mentasta until his death in 2001. Katie John is well known for her leadership in protecting subsistence rights via her involvement with the landmark 1990 case, Katie John et al. v. the state of Alaska, and for her subsequent work protecting traditional fishing and hunting lifestyles in rural communities. James Kari, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is a linguist who specializes in Athabascan languages and oral history. His landmark work with Katie and Fred John has resulted in publications of oral histories and narratives in Ahtna, one of the eleven Athabascan languages spoken in Alaska. Among Professor Kari's many publications are a collection of Belle Deacon's stories, Deg Hit'an Athabascan, and The Ahtna Athabascan dictionary.
Lazeni udetniinn 'iinn tseh xona 'udaadze 'Atna' daadze kadele. The ones called Russians first were coming from down the Copper River. 'Atna' daadze kadelde xona koht'aenn' iinn 'uka kadelde. As they came up the Copper River they came (looking) for Ahtna people. Luk'ece'e Na' keniide yet c'a xona, At the place they call "King Salmon Creek" (site where creek joins Copper River south of Drop Creek), ts'utsaede tseh kughile'de, koht'aenn 'iinn hdaghalts'e.' some Ahtnas were staying where about two hundred years ago there had been a site. Kaek'ae kehwghil'aen'de. They had a home there. Yet xu nihnidaedl 'e l kaskae, ukaskae' yilaenn 'uka c'ekudelketde. They (the Russians) arrived there and they asked for their (Ahtna) chief. Yen xugha tihniltaen. They brought him out to them. Xeyuzniic ts'en' xeyeltsez. They (the Russians) grabbed him and they whipped him. Kedettsagh. He was sobbing. 'Uniit Nataelde hwts'en ciil utsucde inelyaexi 'ae l zdlaa. From upriver at "Roasted Salmon Place" (Batzulnetas) a young man who was raised by his grandmother had traps set. Decen 'ae l tanatedaasi idezts'aan. As he went back among the deadfall traps he heard him (sobbing). Yii cu ugheldze' idits'agga 'e l koht'aenn dadilaen ts'en.' He listened carefully and it sounded like a person. Detsucde ts'en' natesdeyaa ts'en' detsucde nahwnicdini'aan. He returned to his grandmother and he brought the news to her. "K'alii cu nkohnesi dadilehe. "It didn't sound like an animal. Koht'aenn k'a daasts'ak. I heard a person. Koht'aenn kedetsaghade de'ests'ak," dae' detsucde 'e lnii. I heard a person sobbing," he told his grandmother. Utsucde xona ka'ooxo koht'aenn 'iinn kugha'aay hdelts'iinn 'iinn tah looyaal ts'en.' His grandmother went over to the people staying nearby there. "Naniit scaay xu 'ae l tanatedaas nadaa' "My grandchild was checking traps downriver koht'aenn 'iinn hdelts'ii ts'en' xu' konii, dae' nii 'nts'e tkonii 'uzolyuunn.'" where people are staying and he says 'you should be on guard.'" Lazeni 'iinn gaa htadel koniix t'aenn kesdilts'ak. Someone let him know that the Russians would be coming here. Xuk'a tk'ent'ae koniide," dae' koht'aenn 'iinn 'elnii. And this is how the situation seems to be," and so she told the people. Yukahts'en' sacagha 'el xona lazeni xuts'en' ghadel. Sure enough, in the morning Russians were approaching them. Yene 'iinn xuts'en' ghadeli 'el xona xugha hnidaetl. They approached them and then they reached them. C'uket Ta' c'ekudelket, "Bede 'iinn nuhkaskae' nlaen?" dae' xu'ekenii. C'uket Ta,' ["Father of Buys Something"], asked, "Who are your chiefs?" they (Russians) said to them. "Yen, yen c'a nekaskae' nlaen," dae' kiilnii. "He, he is our chief," they (Ahtnas) said to him. "Yen kaskae xona negha tinoltaes," dae' kenii ts'en.' "Bring the chief out to us," they said. Xugha tikiiniltaen. They brought him out to them. Ba'aat xona c'ecenn' hwnidighi'aay 'ekeyiltl'uun. They (Russians) lashed him to a stump that stood near there. Keyeltsez. They whipped him. Yii c'a xugha kiidettsagh yen da. He was sobbing to them, that man. "Yalniil Ta' da t'ol'aenn." "You are doing this to Yalniil Ta'" ["Father of He is Carrying It"]. "C'udaghalne' ts'en' cu'el 'ohtnes da doht'aenn?" dae' da xu'elnii. "Do you know you are doing this to someone who is vicious?" he said to them. Yen 'iinn k'alii kiidists'agga ts'en.' They (the Russians) couldn't understand him. C'uket Ta' kudelket, "Nts'e nii ts'en'?" They asked C'uket Ta', "What is he saying?" C'a nii dae, "Kedetsagh. 'ebii, 'ebii,' dae' nii ts'en.'" And he said, "He is sobbing. 'Ouch, Ouch,' he is saying." C'uket Ta' yidi idits'ak k'alii xu'el inakolnigi. C'uket Ta' did not tell them what he had (actually) heard. Yeghak'ae xona dahnidaetl ts'en.' They entered his (the chief's) house. "Xantaey' tinohdael." "You (men) leave right away." Ts'ilten' keyizdlaay 'el 'uyuunn 'el hwtsicdze' xuc'a' kuzniic ts'en.' They took from them (the Ahtna men) all the bows and spears that they had. Xuyuunn' 'el kuzniic. They took their spears. Xutandliidulneni gha tixuhniniyuut, denaey 'iinn. They drove them out so that they might freeze, those men. Ts'akaey 'iinn yaen,' ts'akaey 'iinn yaen' kuzniic ts'en.' Only the women, they took just the women. Ts'ins'taey 'iinn du' 'alnaa gha kughines. They took the old women, too, as slaves. Denaey 'iinn yaen' tixuhniniyuut. They chased out only the men. Yii c'a xona Natael Na' ts'en' ngge' htezdaetl ts'en.' And then they (the Ahtna men) started upland from "Roasted Salmon Creek" (Tanada Creek). Yu' 'aede n'el xutandliidulneni gha xu tkiilaak. They had been forced to go without (adequate) clothing so that they would freeze. Ts'instaey 'iinn lazeni 'iinn xukuzniic xu 'alnaa gha. The Russians took those old women as slaves. Lic'ae xugha nakighaan ts'en' xunansekele' ts'en.' They (the Russians) killed some dogs and skinned them. Xudezes lic'ae dezes ta xule' 'ehdelaes. They gave them the skins, those dog skins. Tadghusaex xu' 'ekenii. They told them to tan them. Yedu' takiide'aal. Then they (the women) chewed on them. Takiide'aal ts'en' tac'ehdesaex yii gha lic'ae zes. They chewed all them and tanned them, those dog skins. Sasluuggu' cuu koht'aenn hdelts'ii ts'en' 'el ts'eketniigi. They (the Russians) didn't know that there were more people staying at "Small Salmon" (Suslota). Gha yet tixuhniniyuut ts'en' xuk'a 'utgge tah sasluuggu' tah kakezdaetl ts'en.' When they chased them out, they (the Ahtna men) went up above to "Small Salmon." Yihts'en tah xona yu' 'el c'aan keyuyaan'a 'el xule' ghalyaa. There clothing and food to eat were given to them. Yii c'a 'utsiit Natael Na' tah xona kii'el nin'idaetl ts'en' xutah kedek'aas ts'en.' Those who had come from down at "Roasted Salmon Creek" (Tanada Creek) were training (for war) among them. Kadyiin' ts'en' c'etiye' 'iinn kadyiin.' They made medicine, and the old men made medicine. Sen 'el niltah nakehwdelaes. They combined their medicine (powers). Sen 'el koht'aenn 'iinn ketk'aas. The people trained with medicine. Seyeni 'iinn, "Na'aat ts'abaeli c'eyits'e dighilcaax gha yii tatnulghotlde. The medicine men said, "You try to break the biggest spruce out there. Yihts'en del 'el tsighaa 'el ta uyihts'en kadidaek xona k'etuhdeniil," If blood and hair come out of it, then you will get your revenge," dae' deyeni 'iinn xu'elnii. so the shamans told them. Xu' tkedyaak ts'en.' So they did that. Ba'aat ts'abael yii c'eyits'e dighilcaax xu xii'ekuldel takiitnelghodli 'el Out there they charged against the largest spruce and they broke it and del tah tsighaa del dilaenn 'el ta kadedaex. blood, hair with blood, came out (of the spruce). "Yet c'a xona c'a k'et'ohdeyaak." "There you will get revenge." "Xona xu' tuliil. Xu' tuhghaan," dae' xu'ekenii. "You will do like this. You will kill them," they told them. Deyeni xu'ekenii. The shamans told them. Xona katk'aats. Then they were trained.
Fred John (FJ): lazeni 'iinn nadaa'a nadaa'a 'Atna daa' tah c' ezdlaen dae' konii. It was said that they (the Russians) had appeared downriver, down the Copper River. C'ets'en' nikidaek ts'en.' They were fierce. Yedu' kaydii xutah 'udaadze xu htezdaetl lazeni 'iinn. They were coming among them from downriver, those Russians. Natsii Nataelde yet ta xona yet hnidaetl ts'en' nahwtezk'aats ts'en.' They arrived down there at "Roasted Salmon Place" (Batzulnetas) and the weather was beginning to get cold (in the late fall). C'uket Ta' yen du' dastnaey ghile' kenii That man (the interpreter), C'uket Ta,' was a Dena'ina they say. Yen du,' " 'ene'!" He told them (earlier), "Don't do it (don't attack them now)!" "C'etsen' 'ekutsaas da su xona kuts'ughaan,'" kenii. "It would be 'difficult meat' for us to kill them," they said. Cetsen' 'ekutsaas da su," dae' kenii. "It would be difficult meat," they said. Xona du' xona 'udaa' kaskae 'udaa' tezyaa. Then the chief (of Batzulnetas) went downriver. 'Ilcuut ts'en' c'etsezi kaen' ltsez. He was taken and whipped with a whip. Xoxoxoon. Oh-ho-ho. Na'udedzii xu' yen da t'ghol 'aen' da?" dae' nii. "Should you do this to one calling his own name?" he (Yalniil Ta') said. "Yii su c'a t'ae 'ene' c'etsen' 'ekutsaas." (C'uket Ta' said), "Don't do it. It would be difficult meat." "'Ene'!" yen 'unsogho dastnaey yilnii. "Don't do it (don't fight them now)!" the Dena'ina from the west told him. C'uket Ta' yilnii. C'uket Ta' told him. Xona 'unae' dana'idyaa. Then he (a Russian) came back in. "Nts'e nii?" udetnii. "What is he saying?" he asked him (C'uket Ta').
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