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10 Lower Tanana 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 people. Between these two groups, along the middle stretches of the river, live the Tanacross people. While McKennan and de Laguna have written about the area, little has been published that separates Lower Tanana oral traditions from Upper Tanana, Tanacross, and Koyukon traditions. Much that we have said about storytelling and narrative genres of the other groups applies equally to Lower Tanana stories. De Laguna even consolidates her comments on the Deg Hit’an, the Koyukon, and the Lower Tanana peoples by referring to them all as Dena, the Athabaskan word for ‘‘the People.’’ Based on her work in Minto, Rooth reports that traditionally Lower Tanana stories were told only in the winter. Some prohibitions existed against disrupting the telling of a story or stopping in the middle. Often a second storyteller would assist the primary storyteller, and Lower Tanana storytellers had a formulaic closing for distant-time stories similar to that of Koyukon narratives. Peter John was born in the fall of  in Rampart on the Yukon River. He lived in Nenana, on the Tanana River, for five years and attended St. Mark’s School, going as far as the second grade. Yet he taught himself much about the world outside interior Alaska by persistent reading. For most of his life, he lived in Old Minto, until the village was moved in  to its present site. During the negotiations leading up to land-claims legislation, Mr. John played an important role as an advocate of Native rights. Throughout his lifetime, he has been deeply involved with subsistence living, but he also worked on a steamship and served as Minto village chief. In , Mr. John married his wife, Elsie. In  the University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded him an honorary doctorate of humane letters to commemorate his service  Lower Tanana to Interior Athabaskan culture. Today he is a noted proponent of traditional Athabaskan values and is acknowledged as the Traditional Chief for Interior Alaskan Athabaskans. The selections included here are from Mr. John’s autobiography, Peter John: Minto. Mr. John was interviewed by Yvonne Yarber and Curt Madison in September  and May . He narrated in English, and they then edited the tapes to create the published autobiography. Their goal was to be faithful to his oral storytelling style, so they made few grammatical changes. These selections are excellent examples of Athabaskan personal narratives . Loosely placed in the historical genre, their goal was not to aggrandize the ego of the individual; rather, they tried to teach important lessons and to express the worth of traditional values. Sometimes people even told of their mistakes and failures to make their points clearly. Here Mr. John presents a variety of culturally moral subjects having to do with how to learn, the nature of courage, the importance of being steadfast, the necessity of having respect for the natural world, the central role of clan relationships, and the timeless presence of the spiritual realm. suggestions for further reading de Laguna, Frederica, ed. Tales from the Dena: Indian Stories from the Tanana, Koyukuk , and Yukon Rivers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, . John, Peter. The Gospel according to Peter John. Edited by David J. Krupa. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, . ———. Peter John: Minto. Fairbanks: Spirit Mountain Press, . Luke, Howard. My Own Trail. Edited by Jan Steinbright Jackson. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, . McKennan, Robert A. ‘‘Tanana.’’ In Subarctic, vol.  of Handbook of North American Indians. Washington dc: Smithsonian Institution, . Rooth, Anna Birgitta. The Importance of Storytelling: A Study Based on Field Work in Northern Alaska. Studia Ethnologica Upsaliensia . Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, . ...


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