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Our Voices

Native Stories of Alaska and the Yukon

James Ruppert

Publication Year: 2001

Storytelling is a precious, vibrant tradition among the Native peoples of the Far North. Collected here for the first time are stories from the communities of interior Alaska and the Yukon Territory. These are the tales the people tell about themselves, their communities, and the world they inhabit.
Our Voices showcases twenty storytellers and writers who represent a full range of Athabaskan and related languages of Alaska and the Yukon. Both men and women recount popular tales of ancient times that describe the origins of social institutions and cultural values, as well as meaningful, sometimes intimate stories about their own lives and families or the history of their people. As representatives of an art transmitted through countless generations and now practiced with renewed interest and vigor by people reclaiming their cultural heritage, these narratives create a broad, brightly colored, richly detailed picture of the world of the Far North, present and past.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

One century ago, Alaska and the Yukon were associated in the public mind with the great Klondike gold rush. Through the works of poets and writers of fiction and nonfiction –– for example, John Muir, Jack London, and Robert Service –– the North Country became a place of awesome...


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-37

Native American oral narratives have been collected, written down, and published for several centuries. In Alaska and the Yukon Territory, the collection of such material has proceeded for somewhat less than two hundred years, but an exceptional...

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1. Deg Hit’an

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pp. 39-67

Deg Hit’an means ‘‘people from here’’ or, as linguist James Kari translates it, ‘‘people of the local area.’’ That area comprises a section of the lower Yukon River, the lower Innoko River (a tributary of the Yukon), and the middle Kuskokwim River...

Deg Hit’an Gixudhoy: The People’s Stories

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pp. 42

Taxghozr: Polar Bear

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pp. 43-51

Nił’oqay Ni’idaxin: The Man and Wife

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pp. 52-67

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2. Koyukon

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pp. 69-107

The name Koyukon derives from the Koyukuk and middle Yukon Rivers where the villages of these Athabaskan people are situated. Their rich oral tradition has been noted for generations. Structuring this tradition is a broad distinction between...

Doz K’ikaal Yee Nogheełt’uyhdlee: The One Who Used to Put His Nephew into a Fishtail

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pp. 72-83

Dotson’ Sa Ninin’’atłtseen: Great Raven Who Shaped theWorld

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pp. 84-89


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pp. 90-95

Dekeltlaal De’ot Etldleeyee: The Woodpecker Who Starved His Wife

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pp. 96-104

Ełts’eeyh Denaa: WindMan

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pp. 105-107

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3. Gwich’in

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pp. 109-127

Like Hit’an in Deg Hit’an, Gwich’in means ‘‘dwellers of,’’ or ‘‘people of,’’ but a topographical or geographical term often precedes it to identify a particular group. These Athabaskan people inhabit villages along the middle Yukon River and its major tributaries...

Shaaghan: The Old Woman

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pp. 113-114


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pp. 115-116

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We Go to Fort Yukon

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pp. 117-124

That fall we were living at Old John Lakeshore House.1 They hunted in all directions from this point, and when they killed many caribou we moved camp there.While it was warm we dried it; on the other side of the big lake are three places where...

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Jalgiitsik, Tł’yahdik Haa: Chalkyitsik and Tł’yahdik

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pp. 125-127

Later in March 1942,1 David returned,2 but Steven said he was sick. ‘‘You leave with David,’’ he told me. So then I harnessed up those poor dogs, put the three children in the sled, and followed him by dog team. I mean to say that David’s dogs were really...

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4. Northern Tutchone

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pp. 129-146

As one proceeds upstream on the Yukon River, the Gwich’in word for story, gwandak, becomes hodek among the Han Athabaskans, who traditionally inhabited a large area bisected only for the past century by the international boundary. Farther upriver, the word...

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Gyo` Cho Chu: Living at Big Salmon, 1930s and 1940s

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pp. 133-139

Long ago when I was young our whole family used to live at Big Salmon –– my dad, my mother, my older sisters, my younger sisters –– eight of us lived there at Big Salmon. Lots of people used to stay there: John Shorty, George Peters, Pack Charlie...

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K’ènlū Mǟn: Northern Lake, 1944

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pp. 140-143

I’m going to tell you a story about the time we went up through K’ènlū1 [Northern Lake] pass. I’m telling what I remember about 1944 when my mother,my dad, and my three sisters, who later died, were still living. We lived along...

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K’ènlū Mǟn: Northern Lake, 1956

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pp. 144-146

My dad,my two younger brothers [Norman and Joe], and I traveled over to K’ènlū1 [in 1956]. The time I’m talking about is after I came back from hospital in Edmonton.We went from Whitehorse on a small plane to stake for a...

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5. Kaska

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pp. 147-168

Speakers of Kaska may define their territory in relation to the high mountains at the borders of their traditional homeland: Steamboat Mountain in the south, Three Aces in the west, the Mackenzie Mountains in the east, and Keel Peak in the north...

Gédḗni Gēs Gagáh Nédē: The Girl Who Lived with Salmon

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pp. 152-159

Dzǫhdié' Gūh Chō Dzéhhīn: Dzǫhdié' Kills the Giant Worm

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pp. 160-168

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6. Tagish

In den k’e (as the people call their language), Tāgizi was once the name of a place. Literally translated, Tāgizi means ‘‘it is breaking up,’’ and ‘‘it’’ refers to the spring ice. The people inhabiting that place along the headwaters of the Yukon River in the southern...

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Getting Married

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pp. 173-179

After I came out from under the bonnet,1 I went to Atlin with my aunt, Mrs. Austin, Sadusge´. They [Sadusge´ and her white husband, Shorty Austin] were going prospecting, head of the lake.Her boys were going to stay in Carcross with her mother...

The Stolen Woman

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pp. 180-186

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7. Southern Tutchone

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pp. 187-227

Like the Tagish, the Southern Tutchone people live in a region of the Yukon Territory that encompasses headwaters of the Yukon River, but in addition their homeland includes the upper reaches of the Alsek River before it descends through...

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Our Shagóon, Our Family History

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pp. 193-197

I’m going to put it down who we are. This is our Shagóon –– our history. Lots of people in those days, they told their story all the time. This story comes from old people, not just from one person –– from my grandpa, Hutshi Chief; from Laberge Chief; from Dalton...

How First This Yukon Came to Be

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pp. 198-211

Naakw: Devilfish, or Octopus, Helper

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pp. 212-219

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[To Build a Fire]

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pp. 220-222

I went out to Little Atlin, one time, with my grandson Richard, his wife,my little grandchild.We go hunting out there, you know. That’s the time of year moose are running, Little Atlin. A big truck...

The First Time They Knew K’och’èn, White Man

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pp. 223-227

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8. Upper Tanana

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pp. 229-244

The Upper Tanana Athabaskan people live along the Tanana River above Tok, Alaska, and along the many creeks and streams that flow into it, especially those creeks on the border between Alaska and the Yukon Territory. In some earlier studies...

Stsǫǫ Shyaan Ǫǫnign’: Ch’aldzeek Shyii Dineh Gaay Na’ithädn: My Old Grandmother: The Little Man Standing in the Moon

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pp. 232-236

Dlign Mba’ Hehk’aayh Ts’ä’: When the Tree Squirrels Cut Fish

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pp. 237-238

Ch’ǫǫt’üüdn Ch’aachin’ Shyiit Eedah: When Horsefly Was Living in a Stump

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pp. 239-240

Taatsaan’ Dzänh eh Ǫǫnign’: Raven and Muskrat Story

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pp. 241-244

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9. Tanacross

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pp. 245-260

The word Tanacross is a compound of ‘‘Tanana River’’ and ‘‘crossing.’’ The language spoken at that crossing in the great river is quite distinct from what has been called Upper Tanana, the language spoken just up the river at its headwaters. Before the Alaska...

The Child Who Was Stolen by a Brush Indian

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pp. 249-252

How Dentalium Necklaces Came to the Country

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pp. 253-260

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10. Lower Tanana

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pp. 261-276

The Athabaskan people who live in the drainage of the Tanana River as it approaches the Yukon River have been referred to as Tanana Indians. However, they are more precisely designated Lower Tanana, in clear contrast to the Upper Tanana...

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I Learned the Indian Way

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pp. 263-264

The thing is this, I really don’t know when my mother was born. And I don’t even know when my father was born. Me and my sister are the only ones that are living. My mother died when I was about two years old. My father raised...

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Strong People

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pp. 265-267

It’s hard to explain the real true way about life a long time ago. The way we see it today is altogether different. I’m going to talk in my Native tongue...

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I Belong to My Mother’s Side

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pp. 268-269

In our Native way we go by tribes. Ch’echalyoo, Bedzey-te khut’ana, Toneedze gheltseełna, Tsey-yoo. That’s the tribes we go by. Don’t ask me why.We’ve got that many tribes right here in Minto down the street. I’m Caribou, Bedzeyte khut’ana. I belong to my...

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Try to Make Things

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pp. 270-271

Another time, I wanted to go out. Out walking to hunt, but there was too much snow. I had no snowshoes. So I walked down the street and I saw snowshoes hanging on the wall of somebody’s house. I take those snowshoes, went out and got...

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Never Get Scared

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pp. 272-273

When I was a kid I learned by looking at other people.Whatever I’m interested in, if a person do it, well, I go and watch them. That way I learn. I live in the brush all my life. Everything I learn is what I went by. I learn how to hunt, call...

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Love Woods Life

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pp. 274-275

If you was in the brush as long as I was, you would understand life. Just like going to school, you’ll understand. Because that’s the way I learned. I didn’t learn it like you, going to school. I learn the outdoor life the way people learned it long...

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I Don’t Go Around

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pp. 276

It’s altogether different kind of person you’re talking to. I don’t go around and pet my relations. I never go around my sister Lena and I never see her. So that’s the kind of person I am.Why should I go around her? She got her own life to worry...

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11. Upper Kuskokwim

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pp. 277-295

The Upper Kuskokwim Athabaskan people occupy the headwaters of the Kuskokwim and its tributaries upriver from the Selatna River. This area includes the modern communities of Nikolai and Telida, which were established by Athabaskans...

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Dotron’ Minagha’ Sritonedak Di: Raven Lost His Eyes

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pp. 282-284

Here is a story of Raven and what he did. Raven was sitting on the edge of the bank. He looked up and down the river, but he did not see anyone. He was getting tired, so he took out his eyes and left them on the bank. ‘‘I will sleep. If someone comes...

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Dotron’ Suje Gona’ No’iłtsenh: Raven Fixes Marten’s Arm

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pp. 285-287

Raven was living at this place. There were lots of people there. They were all kinds of animals living in one place. They were playing with a ball when more people came from upriver to play.1 The local people kept beating the upriver people...

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Jezra: Camp Robbers

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pp. 288-289

Once there were two old women.1 Each had a cache of her own, which was full of food. They used fishnets to get fish. They also used snares to get rabbits. They used the skins to make rabbit-skin blankets. One day one woman said to the...

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Ch’itsets’ina’: The Skull

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pp. 290-295

Once a couple was living somewhere in a house. They had many children. Their last baby was a girl. She was their only girl. Time passed and she became a young woman. Men came from all over, wanting to marry her, but she didn’t like...

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12. Dena’ina

Speakers of Dena’ina occupied the area surrounding Cook Inlet in south central Alaska. Their territory extended inland across much of the Kenai Peninsula, northerly to the Alaska Range with the Susitna River valley, and westerly encompassing...

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Unhshcheyakda Sukt’a: My Great-Great-Grandfather’s Story

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pp. 301-302

My great-great-grandfather’s name was Qadanalchen, ‘‘Acts Quickly’’ [literally ‘‘bounces up and out’’]. This is my great-great-grandfather’s story, and the reason why there came to be no more potlatches. When they took him...

Qadanalchen K’elik’a: Qadanalchen’s Song

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pp. 303

Tałin Ch’iłtant Qatsinitsexen: The One Who Dreamed at Polly Creek

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pp. 304-324

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K’ełen Ił Ch’qghe’uyi Ch’u K’ech’eltani: Beliefs in Things a Person Can See and in Things a Person Cannot See

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pp. 305-307

The Dena’ina, they say, had some beliefs about animals. After they killed and butchered an animal in the woods while hunting or trapping, they would put the bones in one place. In the winter they would cut a hole in the ice and put the animal...

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Qezdaghnen Ggagga: The Kustatan Bear

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pp. 308-312

A long time before my time there was a village at Old Kustatan, and there was a newer village on the north of the Kustatan Peninsula at Tl’egh Diłchik [‘‘yellow sedge’’] called the New Village of Kustatan, or New Kustatan.1 Quite a few people...

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Qezdaghnen Ggagga Beghun: The Other Half of the Kustatan Bear Story

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pp. 313-315

This is the other part of the Kustatan Bear Story.1 There were three brothers; they were not shamans, but their spiritual convictions were strong. Because of their strong beliefs, this was what had happened. They had killed the bear in which...

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Ch’enlahi Sukdu: The Gambling Story

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pp. 316-317

The Dena’ina once used to tell stories. In this story, two rich men met and said, ‘‘Let’s play the gambling game.’’ One young man was a shaman. The other fellow followed the traditional beliefs [he was a True Believer...

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Ggugguyni Sukt’a: Raven Story

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pp. 318-320

A long time ago, they say, the Dena’ina didn’t have stories and songs. Then one time Raven sang for them.1 Before that time, there was only ‘‘Di ya du hu,’’ [a song loosely translated as ‘‘now, there, under...

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Ggugguyni Ch’u Nut’aq’i: Raven and the Geese

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pp. 321-322

The geese fly back in the spring, after winter, and in the fall they fly back south with their young ones. Once Raven fell in love with a girl, a white goose. ‘‘She should be my wife,’’ he said. The geese said, ‘‘That’s no good. You won’t make it back...

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Kił Ch’u Dujemi: The Man and the Loon

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pp. 323-324

One man had a wife and a young boy. The husband became blind and they were hungry. People would give them some food, but that woman would not give this food to her husband. He was starving and beginning to lose strength...

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13. Ahtna

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pp. 325-348

As much as for any other Northern Athabaskan culture, landscape, language, and life merge for the Ahtna people. They believed that the various forms of life were not always as clearly differentiated as they have come to be, and their storytellers maintained...

Lazeni ’Iinn Nataełde Ghadghaande: When Russians Were Killed at ‘‘Roasted Salmon Place’’ (Batzulnetas)

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pp. 330-335

Cet’aenn Nal’aen’d: When the Tailed Ones Were Seen

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pp. 336-338

Dae’ Ts’atk’aats: How We Were Trained

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pp. 339-342

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Demba: Two Checker Players

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pp. 343-345

In far-off time, two families lived in a village. They were next-door neighbors, and they each had their own slaves. They had a very good year. Each family had fish, meat, spruce hens, ground squirrels, and berries of all kinds. One day around...

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Xay Tnaey: Spruce Root Man

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pp. 346-348

In far-off time, many people lived in a big village by the seashore. They went out hunting seal, fish, and whatever they could find. One group of people went out and did not return. About three boats full of people did not come back...

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14. Eyak

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pp. 349-384

The Delta of the Copper River has for the past century been the final home of the Eyak people and their language. Today the language is all but extinct. The prehistory of the people is unknown, but they are believed somehow to have become separated...


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pp. 353-359

Giant Rat

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pp. 360-368

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pp. 369-370

Dwarfs as big as a thumb used to hunt and fish around the country. They were found around Strawberry Point [on Hinchinbrook Island, near Boswell Bay] at the small lake there. The little women row; the little men hunt and fish. A human captured...

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Łuundiyahsluw: The BigMouse [1933]

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pp. 371-372

Big mouse living under a cliff.He come out every time someone pass in a canoe. Kill them and eat them. He killed several people like that. There was one old man taking three women to pick berries. Old man knew the mouse’s song. If you knew it he wouldn’t...

[The Girl and the Dog] [1933]

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pp. 373-374

Two Sisters

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pp. 375-384

Source Acknowledgments

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pp. 385-387


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pp. 389-394

E-ISBN-13: 9780803202368
E-ISBN-10: 0803202369

Page Count: 394
Illustrations: Maps
Publication Year: 2001

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Subject Headings

  • Narration (Rhetoric).
  • Mass media.
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