Han, People of the River: Han Hwech'in, an Ethnography and Ethnohistory

Han, People of the River: Han Hwech'in, an Ethnography and Ethnohistory

by Craig Mishler


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The upper Yukon River basin is one of the wildest, most beautiful, and coldest places on earth. The indigenous Han Indians, whose homeland straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, traveled this country as hunters and gatherers and found a way to survive in it that exemplifies their innovation and tenacity.

The history of the upper Yukon valley from the earliest Western contact with the Han in the 1840s has been one of continuous change. As a result of the gold rush, the Han suddenly became homeless in their own homeland. This book tells the story of that displacement and of current efforts by the Han to reclaim their lands and restore a vibrant way of life. In-depth profiles of Chief Isaac, Chief Charley, and others illustrate the critical importance of traditional leadership in stressful times.

Mishler and Simeone have carefully researched and compiled new information from historic records, adding their own, firsthand field observations and oral interviews with Elders during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. They present detailed historical data on the fur trade, missionization, and the gold rush, as well as an analysis of Han social structure, settlement patterns, religion, subsistence, and expressive culture. The final chapter illustrates contemporary life in Eagle Village with two vivid ethnographic snapshots- a Christmas eve dance in 1972 and a long summer day in 1997. Appendices include a methodological essay, a historic chronology, rules for Han card games, and genealogies for many Han families. As a model of innovative ethnographic and ethnohistorical work, Han, People of the River makes an important contribution to anthropological and indigenous studies literature. As a vivid and deeply thoughtful depiction of the past, present, and future of the Han, it is meant for all Alaskans and everyone who cares about Alaska history and Alaska Native peoples.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781889963419
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 07/28/2004
Edition description: 1
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsix
Language and Identityxx
Separation and Fragmentationxxii
Social Changexxiii
Distinguished Eldersxxvii
Chapter 1Furs, Missionaries, Gold, and Disease1
The Early Fur Trade2
Missionaries to the Han8
The Discovery of Gold13
Competition Over Resources16
Social Change18
Displacement and Resettlement20
Chapter 2Han Bands and Historic Settlement Patterns35
Historic Bands37
Settlement Patterns and House Types46
Chapter 3Making a Living: The Han Subsistence Economy53
The Seasonal Round55
Caribou Hunting63
Moose Hunting67
Bear Hunting69
Dall Sheep Hunting69
Hunting Birds and Small Game70
Gathering Plants71
The Changing Economy73
Chapter 4Social and Political Organization85
Household Organization86
Band Organization87
Village Organization88
Descent Groups90
Political Organization93
Chief Charley94
Chief David106
Chief Isaac107
Other Han Chiefs111
The Tragedy of Two Young Han Chiefs113
Women to the Fore: A New Era in Han Leadership114
Chapter 5Traditional Han Religion123
Spiritual Power and Shamanism123
The Human-Animal Relationship126
The Potlatch128
Contemporary Feasts136
Chapter 6Han Expressive Culture: Part One141
Han Hodok/Han Stories142
Louise Paul144
Sarah Malcolm157
Willie Juneby160
Oliver Lyman166
Chapter 7Han Expressive Culture: Part Two171
Traditional Songs and Dances171
Fiddle Music and Square Dancing173
Musical and Choreographic Revival176
Han Games177
Traditional Dress and Adornment179
Han Folk Art192
Chapter 8The Han People Today201
Part IHan History Since World War II201
World War II201
The Post-War Years204
The Taylor Highway206
The Exodus from Moosehide Village207
Game Laws208
The Fortymile Herd209
Han Land Claims210
Repatriation Efforts213
The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race214
Han Gatherings215
The Move into Tourism217
Part IIEthnographic Snapshots218
An Evening in Eagle Village218
A Day in Eagle Village221
Appendix AMethodology239
Appendix BChronology of Major Events in Han History242
Appendix CHan Card Games247
Appendix DHan Family Trees253

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