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8 Upper Tanana 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, they were merged with the Tanana Athabaskans, but recent inquiries have focused on their distinct linguistic heritage and cultural achievement. Unfortunately, little has been written by and about the Upper Tanana people. Consequently, inadequate resources exist for an extensive discussion of Upper Tanana storytelling and oral tradition. Recently Mrs. Mary Tyone and James Kari published the first collection of stories in the Upper Tanana language. Mrs. Tyone, known in Upper Tanana as Ts’ä ˛’ Yahnik, was born to Bell and Laura John on November , . She is the only living child of nine siblings . Growing up in the village of Scottie Creek, she was instructed by the old people after she did chores for them, such as cutting wood. In the dark of winter, candles would be lit, and the stories would continue for many hours. Winter was the appropriate time for storytelling because the animals migrated , hibernated, or ranged away from humans. At this time, Mrs. Tyone maintains, one could tell stories and not fear offending the animals. Listeners were encouraged to think about the stories and to ask questions . She remembers asking about those beings in the distant time, and the old people answered that the sky was not as high then as it is now. They told her about how these beings all spoke the same language and were really all parts of one another. While many of the stories portray animals common to interior Alaska and explore their natures, ultimately they offer wisdom about the human condition, for the distance between animal and human is not far in the distant-time stories. Mrs. Tyone lived in Fairbanks, Gulkana, and Northway before settling again in Fairbanks. She is noted for her ability to speak four other Athabas-  Upper Tanana kan languages that are spoken by people of regions bordering her own: Ahtna, Tanacross, and both Northern and Southern Tutchone. Through recording and publishing these narratives, Mrs. Tyone hopes that future generations will read her stories and appreciate some of the wisdom of the old times. McKennan observed that the Upper Tanana people, like most Athabaskans , make a clear distinction between historical and distant-time narratives . Kari points out that the Upper Tanana terms for these two genres are neenaatthehda ˛’ and yaaniida ˛’, respectively. Among those narratives in the distant-time genre, McKennan grouped stories as Ancient Traveler stories, Raven stories, and miscellaneous stories. He also noted that traditionally the Ancient Traveler stories were to be told only during the December moon. In ‘‘My Old Grandmother: The Little Man Standing in the Moon,’’ Mrs. Tyone skillfully weaves together many story elements common to interior Athabaskan oral narrative. With humor and precision, the narrative refers to the importance of respect for all people, especially the elderly, the use of indirect language, the importance of spirit power in hunting, and the hazards of taking illusion for reality. ‘‘When the Tree Squirrels Cut Fish’’ is a cautionary tale emphasizing the attitude of respect that beings should have for one another, especially for those beings who give themselves as food. The story ‘‘When Horsefly Was Living in a Stump’’ pits the trickster/transformer Raven against the irritating Horsefly. Raven pretends to be Horsefly’s kin. He tricks Horsefly by appealing to the most important social bond in Athabaskan life. Raven then challenges Horsefly to a race. Although he rids the people of a dangerous enemy, in the process he creates a first-class pest. In Raven’s world the desirable and the undesirable are always mixed. ‘‘Raven and Muskrat Story’’ shows the powerful Raven receiving help from Frog and Muskrat in order to get his wife back. Raven’s actions establish the nature and environment of these two animals, indeed of the whole world around us. Kari has worked with Mrs. Tyone intermittently since . He records her storytelling and then transcribes the narratives. Later Mrs. Tyone reviews the transcriptions and Kari’s draft translations. He confers with her on corrections, explaining changes in thorough review sessions. suggestions for further reading McKennan, Robert A. The Upper Tanana Indians. Yale University Publications in Anthropology . New Haven: Yale University Press, . Tyone, Mary. Ttheek’ädn Ut’iin Yaaniida ˛’ O ˛ o ˛nign’ (Old-time Stories of the Scottie upper tanana  Creek People): Stories...


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