Book on Tlingit battle wins national award

Posted: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Among the 14 winners of the Before Columbus Foundation's 28th annual American Book Awards was "Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America, The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804" - a book by Juneau residents Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer and the late Lydia Black, of Fairbanks.

The fourth volume in the award-winning series "Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature," jointly published by Sealaska Heritage Institute and the University of Washington Press, this book describes the historic battles between the Russians and Tlingits in the early 19th century.

"Basically, this was the fight for the Northwest Coast fur trade, between the Russians, the British, the Spanish and the Americans, and naturally the Tlingits," Richard Dauenhauer said of the book. "The Tlingits were opposed to the foreign intervention."

The volume includes never-before published recordings - made in the 1950s by Kiks.ádi elder Sally Hopkins and Kaagwaantaan elder Alex Andrews, who was a child of the Kiks.ádi - by the National Park Service of Tlingit elders telling oral histories of the battles.

"It's one of the most important things that happened in Alaska history," Dauenhauer said. "Without that, Alaska probably wouldn't be part of the United States."

The volume was conceived 20 years ago, when Kiks.ádi elders asked the Dauenhauers to transcribe, translate and publish the tapes. Once the Sealaska Heritage Board approved the project, it was up to the Dauenhauers to construct the book.

"We needed community support, and then we were working with the elders, and a lot of them were dying," Dauenhauer said. "Also, there was the problem of getting access to the Russian archives, which, in the beginning, was very difficult and was easier with the end of the Soviet Union."

Despite their challenges, the Dauenhauers were able to compare the recordings to Russian eyewitness accounts, which were translated into English by Black, a scholar and anthropologist who worked on the book until her death in 2007.

"We have the Tlingit point of view, and we match this with Russian accounts," Dauenhauer said. "It's important because we're trying to have the Tlingit point of view of history presented here, which is usually not the case."

The Before Columbus Foundation also recognized the Dauenhauers 18 years ago for their second volume in the "Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature" series, which was on Tlingit oratory.

"The Before Columbus Foundation awards are for outstanding works that represent the multi-ethnic heritage of the United States," Dauenhauer said. "So they are especially interested in things dealing with Native American history and literature, as well as other ethnic groups in the United States. So we're delighted."

The couple is working on volume five of the series, a transcription and translation of Tlingit Raven stories. They also will travel to Berkeley, Calif., this month for a ceremony, reception and book signing of all the American Book Awards winners.

"We're very, very happy with the award," Dauenhauer said. "And I think people are very happy with the book. They're very excited about it, as far as I can tell. All of the response has been positive."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or

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