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3 Gwich’in 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 in Alaska and along the upper Porcupine, lower Peel, and lower MacKenzie Rivers in Canada. Indeed, a great many more of those on the Canadian side of the international boundary live in the Northwest Territories than in the Yukon Territory. Gwich’in is also the name of their language, and its speakers generally use one term – – gwandak – – for all narratives. Like other Athabaskans, however, they tell stories of two basic kinds. Katherine Peter, whose work is represented here, points out that more specific terms – – deenaadai’ gwandak and nahgwan dai’ gwandak – – can be applied, respectively, to traditional distant-time stories and to modern historical and biographical narratives. She translates deenaadai’ as ‘‘old time’’ and nahgwan dai’ as ‘‘very recent.’’ Gwich’in narrators also tell stories that appear to have developed as hybrids of the two basic genres – – stories grounded in historical time and biographical fact that have taken on some features of distant-time tales, usually in certain superhuman attributes of the protagonist. Such narratives would be called legends in Western literary terminology. Katherine Peter was born January , , in Koyukon-speaking Stevens Village on the middle Yukon River. In the summer of , she traveled by steamboat with her mother, Annie Joseph, to Fort Yukon, the large Gwich’in community upriver. Her mother died there within half a year, but before her death she had arranged for her daughter to be taken into the home of Chief Esias Loola and his wife, Katherine. In this household the eight-year-old child, who had arrived knowing neither Gwich’in nor English , was quickly immersed in traditional Gwich’in culture and in Christian doctrine. Looking back as an elder, she says that she had to learn  Gwich’in Gwich’in in order to communicate in the Fort Yukon of her youth, and she credits her classmates at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school and at Bible school as her best teachers in learning not only Gwich’in but English. She discovered her aptitude for learning language, and the use of the Dago ˛o ˛ Bible in Bible school and at home enabled her to become literate in Gwich’in as well as a fluent speaker. Married to Steven Peter when she was not quite eighteen, Mrs. Peter lived first at Arctic Village on the East Fork of the Chandalar River, a tributary of the Yukon, and then at Fort Yukon. In both places, she taught school, and in Fort Yukon she raised her family. She became active in Gwich’in-language work in the late s and early s, first as a translator of the Bible for the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Wycliffe Bible Translators, then as a staff member at the Alaska Native Language Center. She quickly learned the new standardized orthography for writing Gwich’in, even though she was accustomed to using the older (Dago ˛o ˛) system. During her eight years of full-time employment with anlc, she transcribed and composed what Michael Krauss has called ‘‘by far the largest and most important body of Gwich’in writing in this century.’’ She also became a teacher of Gwich’in at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in courses that, as Krauss has noted, marked ‘‘the first time that language was ever taught at a university.’’ Officially retired since , Mrs. Peter has continued to be significantly involved in Gwich’in-language projects of anlc, and she spends a large part of each week helping to care for patients in a Fairbanks medical/nursing facility . In  the University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree. The value of her contribution to Gwich’in literature and linguistics cannot be overstated. In original composition, she has retold traditional gwandak , often designing them for youthful readers; she has written many other instructional materials for use in Gwich’in-language programs in schools; and she has created an autobiographical narrative of a crucial decade in her life. In transcription, she has enlarged and enriched the Gwich’inmanuscript corpus of both distant-time stories and historical accounts, by transcribing directly from tapes recorded by more than a score of Gwich’in elders during the past quarter century and by retranscribing (in the modern standard spelling) texts that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803202368
MARC Record
OCLC
607194129
Pages
394
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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