• Waterways: Language, Culture, and the Environment in Alaska’s Upper Tanana
    • Jessica Cherry, International Arctic Research Center and Institute of Northern Engineering, UAF Olga Lovick, First Nations University, Regina, Canada Patrick Harman, Harman Media, Fairbanks, AK
    • January 17, 2014
  • Image above: From David, Cora. 2011. Teedląy t’iin naholndak niign: Stories by the Tetlin people. Edited by Olga Lovick. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
    Photo Credit: Jessica Cherry.

In this talk, we report on an interdisciplinary film project involving a hydrologist, a linguist, and a media designer, to document the ways in which water has shaped and continues to shape the way of life for the Tetlin people.

The old settlement of Last Tetlin lies among numerous lakes and small rivers near the origin of the Tanana river in eastern interior Alaska. The traditional language of the Tetlin people is the Tetlin dialect of Upper Tanana Athabascan, but today, only a few handfuls of speakers remain.

Water and its changes through the seasons and across decades form the matrix in which this culture has functioned for thousands of years. Water provides both resources (fish) and travelways (via boat and winter trail network) to access these and other resources, leading to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Many of the old-time stories tell of the people’s interactions with their land, as can be seen in David (2011), a collection of Tetlin narratives.

In “Waterways”, we present three short story segments illustrating the relationship between the Tetlin people and their waterscape using the original (Upper Tanana Athabascan) audio, animated text, and, following every Athabascan line, a spoken English translation. Enriching this material with maps, airborne images of hydrologic features, archival imagery, and new video footage of the Tetlin area, we created an educational, museum-quality exhibit suitable for anyone with an interest in the changing way of life of an interior Alaskan Athabascan group.

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