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9 Tanacross 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 Highway was built, this region was among the most remote in Alaska, and perhaps as a consequence, there is very little recorded oral literature in this language. Based on just the five stories I recorded , I would not want to plunge into generalizations. Still, there is much in the Tanacross storytelling tradition that resonates with other Athabaskan storytelling from Holy Cross, Alaska, to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. I cannot say for certain, but I would expect that these stories would be much like the yaaniida ˛’ (‘‘distant-time’’ stories) of the Upper Tanana neighbors. Gaither Paul, who told the stories here, was concerned that he be understood. Like other Athabaskan storytellers I have learned from, that was the main concern – – that I listen, understand, and learn. Thus I would say that the primary expected behavior of the audience was not just to show attention but to indicate comprehension in some way. Gaither Paul was fifty-six years of age when these stories were recorded. He was born March , , at a caribou hunting camp between Dot Lake and the Robertson River, Alaska. Over the years he lived at Mansfield, Tanacross , and Anchorage. His father was David Paul, the first ordained Athabaskan in the Episcopal Church, and his mother was Laura Luke. His father’s father was Old Paul, and his father’s mother was Julia Paul; his mother’s father was John Luke, and his mother’s mother was Laura Luke. Gaither Paul has eight adopted children, fourteen grandchildren, and one greatgrandchild . This adoring grandfather is not only a skilled traditional hunter but has also worked as a truck driver, a Cat operator, a gold-dredge operator, and a custodian. He is a self-taught fiddle player, reads two newspapers daily, and is a contributor to the Anchorage Daily News.  Tanacross Gaither Paul is a storyteller, not a social analyst; he is a teacher, not a critic; he is a tradition bearer, not a researcher. When we met in both Fairbanks and Tanacross, we worked together to try to accomplish three purposes . I wanted texts for linguistic analysis, and from that point of view, the rhetorical or educational purposes of the texts were not my main interest. Gaither Paul and his wife, Beatrice, wanted to have his stories recorded in a form that could be passed on to their grandchildren. More powerful than either of these motives, however, was his concern to teach me through the telling of these stories. When I approached Mr. Paul through his wife, I recall that I asked, in a way that I hoped was polite enough, how he would evaluate himself as a storyteller . He did not directly answer my question. I was to learn that this response was most characteristic of his deep humility. He asked if I was ready to record. I said I was, and he told me the story of Nesdzeegh, ‘‘Smear Face,’’ the man who disguised his great handsomeness and strength by distorting his face with pitch and affecting physical disability. Then as the story unfolds , we learn that those who learn from Smear Face’s actions of his underlying character are rewarded with his protection. Thus, like Smear Face, Mr. Paul told me that I should look to his stories for my evaluation, not to his own comments about them. This guidance is consistent with his own great concern for others; over the years he and his wife have cared for more than three hundred foster children. Gaither Paul told me five stories in my office in Fairbanks and in his home in Tanacross during several visits that we made to each other. The original tapes have been stored in the library of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This center also published both Tanacross texts and English translations of the stories in a collection titled Stories for My Grandchildren. When he told the stories, Mr. Paul was very concerned that I understand his meaning just then in that situation, not only later on after I had had time to digest the Tanacross versions. So each story was told to me in two versions , first in Tanacross and then again in English, the Tanacross for posterity , as it...


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