A new book that chronicles the history and life of the Alaska Native Ahtna Athabascan people, as shared by elders, debuted at a special presentation in Cantwell recently.
The book describes “who the Ahtna people are, what’s important to us and how we view the future,” said Michelle Anderson, president of Ahtna. “This book is a foundation piece.”
“AHTNA: The People and their History, netseh dae’ tkughit’e’ “before us, it was like this” is dedicated to Ahtna elders, who shared their knowledge and insight to be preserved in writing.
Author William E. Simeone is an anthropologist who worked as subsistence resource specialist and regional supervisor for the Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department Fish and Game. He worked for more than 20 years on fish and game issues and documenting many facets of Ahtna culture and history.
The book was a three-year project, which he shared in a PowerPoint presentation in Cantwell last week.
“When we introduced the concept to the board several years ago, they latched onto it,” Anderson said. “The ones who spoke out so vigorously basically said, ‘There are some really special aspects to our culture that we cannot lose. We need to write these things down.’”
“They said they wanted to dedicate time and resources to write these things down,” she added.
Simeone was able to pull together many years of interviews and oral history that already had been collected. Elders and other Ahtna members were invited to read every chapter as it developed.
“Ahtna people were participating in the writing of the book themselves and approved every script,” Anderson said. “The end product was always wonderful.”
The book is filled with historical photographs and transcribed interviews with Ahtna elders. Here is a synopsis from the Ahtna website: “Taken as a whole, Ahtna oral history is a chorus of individual voices that speak of events, people, places, values and changes that provide a unique sense of Ahtna history from the inside. On one level, their stories are about everyday life and people. On another, it is the story of remarkable resilience, often in the face of very difficult circumstances. Intimate stories are told of the unique challenges that form the backdrop to recent Ahtna history: the fur trade, the dramatic influx of non-Native Americans, the struggle for the land and the right to continue a way of life based on the customary and traditional pursuits of hunting, fishing and gathering.”
Chapters also cover the cultural significance of potlatches, amulets and songs, divination and curing, and the connection between humans and animals.
“What emerges is a story of a people who have persevered through time, to exist in a place and maintain a way of life that defines them.”
In Anderson’s mind, the book scratches the surface of all things Ahtna — “where are our traditional lands, what makes them unique, then going into our history and how we evolved from fish camps to board rooms,” she said. “I would like to dig deeper.”
She doesn’t know whether creating a second book is possible, but she would love to explore that option.
“I believe there is a direct connection between your sense of who you are and where you feel your homeland is,” she said. “I’ve been all over the state, and, maybe I’m partial, but I think our region is so beautiful. I want our people to know it.”
The book is for sale for $20 at www.ahtna-inc.com. It can also be purchased at the Glenallen or Anchorage offices.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMKris.