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2 Koyukon 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 kk’edonts’ednee and yooghe done. The first genre consists of stories of the distant time when humans and animals could talk to each other and when they shared a common nature. While many actions in kk’edonts’ednee set precedent for actions today, the expectations and codes of behavior were different in the distant-time world. Yooghe done embody narratives set in the recent past, often personal narratives. Sometimes they emphasize the mistakes people can make or the successes they achieve by overcoming obstacles. They might transmit knowledge vital for success in hunting or for prosperous living in a complex world. While they entertain , they also instruct in a practical manner. Traditionally, kk’edonts’ednee were told in ‘‘high language.’’ This style used many metaphors and archaic words. The narratives were told in the dark during the winter, often in a slow and deliberate manner. The audience was expected to make some response at appropriate times, and many people have commented on the active conversations that could accompany the telling. Catherine Attla of Huslia was born in . She speaks of being lucky to be raised by her grandparents Francis and Christine Olin. Both were excellent storytellers, and they taught her the many stories that she knows. Mrs. Attla did not speak English until she was fourteen. Later, as she continued subsistence activities, she learned to read and write. She worked a number of jobs and in Huslia started her own sewing business. She has worked in the schools and on many state and local committees and boards. For years she has been known in the interior of Alaska not only for her craftwork and storytelling but also for her many efforts to perpetuate and foster Koyukon cul-  Koyukon ture. She has published three books of kk’edonts’ednee, from the first two of which we have taken our selections: Sitsiy Yugh Noholnik Ts’in’ (As My Grandfather Told It), Bekk’aatugh Ts’uhuney (Stories We Live By), and K’etetaalkkaanee (The One Who Paddled Among the People and Animals): The Story of an Ancient Traveler. These narratives were recorded in  in Denaakk’e (the Koyukon Athabaskan language) and transcribed between  and  by Eliza Jones, noted Koyukon linguist. The tapes are archived in the Alaska Native Language Center. Jones, with the help of Melissa Axelrod, Chad Thompson, and Bob Maguire, translated the narratives. Jones, herself a Koyukon Athabaskan , recalled storytelling sessions from her youth and translated with a special sensitivity. Her goal was to create English translations that are as close to the Koyukon as possible without presenting awkward English. When that goal proved difficult, she opted for accurate reproduction of the style of the Koyukon. Eliza Jones’s achievements in working with her native language were recognized by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which granted her an honorary doctor of letters degree in . The Koyukon Athabaskan Dictionary , published by the Alaska Native Language Center in , is the monumental result of work begun by Jetté one century ago and continued by Eliza Jones since . The publication recognizes Jetté and Jones as coauthors . The introduction to Stories We Live By presents Catherine Attla’s statement about the concluding formula used by Koyukon storytellers: ‘‘It is said that if we do not say the phrase, ‘I thought the winter had just begun and now I’ve chewed off part of it,’ the winter will be very long. When it was like that in the old days, times were very difficult. Each time we tell a story, we always repeat this phrase: ‘I thought the winter had just begun and now I’ve chewed off part of it.’ That was the way they prayed, by saying that. They prayed to the spirits for a better life. Praying to the spirits is the same as praying in the Christian sense.’’ Often Mrs. Attla has likened the function of these stories to the function of the Bible for Christianity. As sacred history, the stories present the wisdom of the past, while they reveal insights necessary for living in the world today. In these selections we are introduced to the elusive trickster/transformer Raven. He is the powerful and humorous character central to many kk’edonts ’ednee. Motivated by his desires, especially for...


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