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1 UPPER KUSKOKWIM ATHABASKANS: personal, ethnic, and national history Andrej A. Kibrik (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences)

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Presentation on theme: "1 UPPER KUSKOKWIM ATHABASKANS: personal, ethnic, and national history Andrej A. Kibrik (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences)"— Presentation transcript:

1 1 UPPER KUSKOKWIM ATHABASKANS: personal, ethnic, and national history Andrej A. Kibrik (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences) kibrik@comtv.ru ICASS VI, Nuuk, Greenland 22-26 August 2008

2 2 Upper Kuskokwim

3 3 Some facts Upper Kuskokwim belongs to the Athabaskan language family Number of people of Upper Kuskokwim descent: about 200 The major Upper Kuskokwim town is the village of Nikolai: about 100 residents About 90% of Nikolai residents are of Upper Kuskokwim descent Upper Kuskokwim is a highly endangered language: one about 25 speakers remain, and there are only two or three couples still using it for daily communication

4 4

5 5 Nikolai: the birds eye view

6 6 Welcome to Nikolai, a second class city

7 7 Plan of talk Social domains Impact of the dominant society in the 20 th century 1. Religionnone 2. Legal regulationsmild 3. Technologystrong 4. Schooloverwhelming

8 8 1. Religion Upper Kuskokwim people adopted Russian Orthodox Christianity in mid-19 th century Although the operation of the Russian-American company in Alaska was mostly confined to coastal areas Probably the expedition of the explorer Lt. Lavrenty Zagoskin to the UK area (1844) was important for establishing or reinforcing contacts between the UK people and Russians

9 9 Lt. Lavrenty Zagoskin

10 10 McGrath

11 11 Religion (continued) Russian Orthodox religion is by far the most visible element of traditional culture Church services are conducted in English but most hymns are sung in Old Church Slavonic White mans Christmas UK people are devout Russian Orthodox Christians

12 12 Wedding ceremony in Nikolai church

13 13 Lena Petruska (b. 1908) Lenas story about the way she was upbrought Betty Petruska

14 14 Before Russian Orthodox faith BPBUT WHAT WAS BEFORE, BEFORE THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CAME? LPI DONT KNOW WE NEVER PRAY I GUESS kinotsisdletsedihughetadionh we never prayedit used to beat that time hidighenesh­naLide the people used to say LONG TIME AGO I GUESS idleiLdetsenhiL kinoytasdle cold and hungryand when we started praying hwyeiLtsaltsedihudiyokhidighene and thenbetter it becamethey said

15 15 Bobby Esai (b. 1918) Bobbys story of his pectoral icon saving his life when he fell through ice into cold water with his dog team

16 16 Power of faith LONG TIMEnezohwtaghoghoghista long timein waterI stayed kinodlesizanziLtone iconmy neckI have it there heye ghodahwtaloghoghista itbecausemaybeI remained

17 17 Religion: conlusion Devotion to the old style religion points to resilience of the people to the 20 th century influences

18 18 2. Legal regulations Story by Miska Deaphon recorded in 1970s by Ray Collins, about the legal restrictions related to hunting

19 19 Miska Deaphon Are we not people from around here? We are Alaskan people. They should leave it up to us. They guard the game from us. This is what I do not like now. I remember what the old timers used to do and I do not want to go to jail because of what I eat. When someone is hungry he eats. And then he eats something fresh and because of that he has to stay in jail … However, the general patterns of subsistence hunting have been preserved and still play an importan role in the UK communitys lifestyle

20 20 3. Technology Lena Petruskas story about first seeing an airplane around 1923

21 21 Lenas airplane story 11:05 – 12:13 BPSHE SAID SHE WAS TRAPPING SQUIRREL, MOUNTAIN SQUIRREL I THINK THEY CALL, THEN SHE SAID SHE HEARD A NOISE, SOUND LIKE WIND WAS COMING LPsitsuyda chu my grandmother joneniniLsritonohwtodiziLdine thisearthwithit will be ruined (again)it is tetinye hodohwdetodinishdine siLdigheneshtsihwyan worldin big noise will be heardit is she used to tell mealways yihwts dihwtaznehwtalyiniszinh like that starting to becomemay beI am thinking BPSHE SAID HER GRANDMOTHER USED TO SAY THAT

22 22 Lenas airplane story (continued) LPjoneniniLsritohutoziL thisearthtooit will be ruined BPTHIS WORLD WILL= SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN TO THIS WORLD, SHE SAID: MAYBE BIG NOISE AND SHE THOUGHT THAT WAS HAPPENING LPhwyeiLchunodigwchu@@@@@ and thenagainup thereagain yadaghwlaywgh whatI dont knowaround there BP@@@@@@@ SharonShe thought that was the end of the world? BPAHA, I GUESS IT MUST BE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, BUT HER GRANDMOTHER USED TO SAY JUST WILL BE NO MORE YOU KNOW

23 23 Technology (continued) Junior Gregorys story about his injury Jim Nikolais story about skillful operation of various equipment Bobby Esais stories of his operation of complex equipment during WW2 Modern situation with vehicles

24 24 Technology: conclusion Modern technological developments are very much used by the community for their good, and that has significantly altered the traditional patterns

25 25 4. School In 1948, two American missionaries of the Assembly of God, Agnes Rodli and Mildred James, opened the first regular school in Nikolai The impact of this school upon the community was tremendous In the first place, the traditional nomadic lifestyle was abandoned

26 26 Positive The two ladies served as a link of the UK community with the outer world They introduced literacy They familiarized the UK people with some basic agriculture

27 27 Negative The teachers banned the use of the native language at school, punishing kids for speaking it This had devastating consequences for the fate of the language and the whole ethnic identity Formal and detailed accounts of the story are extremely rare, as the recollections are too bitter Sporadic mentions of humiliation in conversations allow to reconstruct the experiences of those who went through the school in late 1940s and early 1950s

28 28 School: conclusion The hidden issue of shameful and rankling experiences at school underlie much of the life stories of the generation born in late 1930s and 1940s This generations school experience led to rejection of the UK language in their communication with their own children during 1960s, and to extremely rapid language shift by the end of 1960s

29 29 The modern Top of the Kuskokwim School

30 30 Sociolinguistic phenomena Language shift Code switching and mixing In 17-pages-long Bobby Esais story, 62% of all instances of code shifting/mixing appear at the points where Western concepts are introduced, such as names, institutions, artifacts, measurements of time or distance, and abstract concepts

31 31 Discourse practices Many discourse types have been lost during the modern era Telling fairy tales and native singing, registered at earlier times, are not practiced anymore In more mundane discourse types, such as storytelling, discourse practices of UK people are not affected by the modernization of the life style They are even transferred to English-language stories recounted by UK people – see studies by Mira Bergelson Discourse practices are more resilient than linguistic structures

32 32


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