Alaska Natives want their traditions saved

Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Alaska Native elders and young people are being encouraged to take the time to talk to each other to help preserve their languages and traditions.

John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Eliza Jones, keynote speaker at the First Alaskans Institute's Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks, said both generations will need patience and determination, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Jones, 72, opened the conference Monday by saying she has watched her culture change, with mainstream American habits replacing traditional storytelling.

Jones said her family used to tell bedtime stories that would be repeated by the children the next day to prove retention and active listening.

She related a story of a woman who lost her husband when he went out hunting. He never returned home, and she sent other men out in search of him.

They came across a single human hip bone at the top of a hill. The name of the place in Koyukon means "point of the human hip bone."

Those are the sort of interesting stories people can learn from talking to elders, Jones said.

Born in a camp at Cutoff on the Koyukuk River, Jones was raised a few miles downriver in the village of Huslia. From 1973 to 1990, she worked as a language transcriber at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Jones co-authored the Koyukon Athabascan Dictionary with the late French Canadian Jesuit Catholic priest Jules Jette, who lived among the Koyukon people before Jones was born. Jette documented their language, traditions and beliefs. Jones used her notes when writing the dictionary.

After retiring from the university in 1990, Jones returned to the village of Koyukuk, at the confluence of the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers, to continue teaching the Koyukon Athabascan language and culture. The dictionary received the Alaska Native Literary Arts Award in 2001.

The Elders and Youth Conference runs through Wednesday.

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