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13 Ahtna As much as for any other Northern Athabaskan culture, landscape, language , and life merge for the Ahtna people. They believed that the various forms of life were not always as clearly differentiated as they have come to be, and their storytellers maintained, as de Laguna has paraphrased them, that ‘‘once all was man’’ (‘‘Atna’’ ). ’Atna’ was the name (of uncertain derivation) of the principal geographical feature of the people’s land – – the Copper River; its great valley, lying generally north to south, was ’Atna’ Nene’. The people have adopted the spelling Ahtna, and most of their villages stand along the course of the river at points where tributary rivers or creeks join it. Their territory, however, extends from the great Alaska Range in the north to the Chugach Range in the south, from the Wrangell Mountains and Chitina River valley in the east to the upper Susitna River and what is now Denali National Park in the west. Four dialects of the language developed: Upper Ahtna, in the mountain passes of the northeast; Central, along the main course of the upper Copper River; Lower, along the Chitina and lower Copper; and Western, on the plateau between the two ranges. Distant-time stories are yenida’a in the Western and Central dialects, yanida’a in the Lower, and yanidan’a in the Upper. Historical stories, including biographical accounts and travel narratives, are ts’ehwtsaedi in the Upper dialect, ts’utsaede in the others. De Laguna has identified a number of characters prominent in Ahtna yanida ’a, including Little Old Crow, Kelya or Smart Man (the Traveler figure, said by the Ahtnas to be Fox or Lynx), Loon as restorer of sight, a boy abducted by Salmon for having offended them, Bears married to humans, giant Worms, and other, shadowy creatures such as ‘‘Bush men who come in summer to kidnap children or others who wander alone into the woods’’ (‘‘Atna’’ –). Ahtna storytellers generally concluded their yanida’a in a traditional way: ‘‘Let the winter be short. Let the summer be long.’’  Ahtna Tellers of historical narratives and personal accounts imbue their ts’utsaede with a sense of place that is much more than establishment of setting. This sense becomes even stronger when the narrator has personal or family associations with the place – – a village site, a creek, a river, an upland ridge, a mountain. For example, Nataełde (Roasted Salmon Place) resonates with special meaning in the ts’ehwtsaedi of Katie and Fred John because its connotations reach back to distant time, before humans lived there, and ahead to today, when humans no longer inhabit it, and the associations include significant history both of family and of Ahtna-Caucasian relationships. In the second of our selections, the Johns describe the first encounter between Ahtnas and the long-tailed creatures, Cet’aenn, who once dwelled in dens at Nataełde. Mrs. John concludes this narrative by telling how the people of the village that later stood on that site showed her mother, as a child, the caves where Cet’aenn had lived. In another account (not included here), Mrs. John artfully reproduces her mother’s point of view in relating how Nelggodi (her mother), at age ten in , watched as Lieutenant Henry T. Allen and his party of exploration entered the village at Nataełde and were fed by the chief, Bets’ulnii Ta’ (in whose name Allen called the village Batzulnetas ). Mrs. John’s father, Sanford Charley, later built a house there (one of five that he had in Upper Ahtna territory) and became chief there in the s. Nataełde, or Batzulnetas, was Mrs. John’s home; as she herself puts it, ‘‘that is where I grew up.’’ Although Batzulnetas has been abandoned for many years, fish, birds, and animals endure there, and the landscape and the lives both of those who inhabited the place and of those who only passed through remain in the language of ts’ehwtsaedi. Kari regards Fred and Katie John as ‘‘tribal historians,’’ and their own autobiographies are intimately and artistically entwined in the ts’ehwtsaedi they tell. In the first of our selections, they describe an incident believed to have taken place at the end of the eighteenth century in which Ahtnas killed a party of Russians who had intruded upon Nataełde, driven off the men, and held the women captive. A child born to one of the women, fathered by one of the Russians, became Fred John’s...


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