A young Chippewa Indian from Minnesota collected these legends and stories told by the Tanaina Indians of southwestern Alaska. Called suk-tus ("legend-stories") and stemming from the seventeenth century, they are anecdotal narratives centered on a particular animal or animals common to the Tanaina country. Thus the tales are peopled with foxes, beavers, wolverines, porcupines, and other animals, some of which disguise themselves in human form for sinister purposes and all of which have human desires and weaknesses.
According to the author, some embellishments in the stories certainly resulted from contact with Western civilization, particularly during the Russian and early fur-trading periods, but basically they are aboriginal Tanaina and are told as they have been handed down through oral tradition.
Originally, suk-tus were related to entertain and instruct, and they are as apt to do so for today’s audiences as for yesterday’s, reflecting both the outlook of their originators and the nature of the environment in which they lived.
About the Author
Bill Vaudrin, as a student in Alaska Methodist University, wintered several years with the Tanaina Indians of Pedro Bay and Nondalton villages, hunting, fishing, and trapping with them. Later he lived in Eagle River, Alaska, and taught English in Anchorage Community College.