Episode 125: Haunting legacies
Highlights from this week's show:
- Echoes from the past, part 1. We travel back in time to Old Tanacross, an abandoned village, once a thriving center of Athabascan language and culture.
- Healing, a work in progress, part 2. A look at the struggle between Native spirituality and Christianity through the eyes of a Chevak John and Teresa Pingayak
- Historical trauma: From heartache to hope, part 3. A conversation with Doug Modig, a traditional healer and longtime Alaska Native sobriety leader. Modig talks about the importance of Native spirituality in healing historical trauma.
This week, we continue our coverage of the Rural Providers’ Conference, held this August in Tanacross, a community on the road system, near Tok. Historic trauma was one of the major themes taken up at this gathering. And Tanacross seemed to be the perfect backdrop.
Jerry Isaac, a former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, was our guide across the Tanana River to Old Tanacross, now a collection of abandoned buildings and remnants of other structures ravaged by time.
As a boy, Jerry recalls how he would set out early in the morning to hunt and trap and return to the village late at night.
The Athabascan name for Tanacross meant “river crossing.” It was translated into English as "Tanana crossing," but somewhere along the way, the missionaries and teachers shortened it to Tanacross.
And it wasn’t long afterward that the Western world became the dominant force in the village. Isaac said children were no longer encouraged to carry chips from a log sawed by a beaver, to help them become industrious. They were also discouraged from speaking their language and singing their songs.
Not long afterward, the connection to the past was cut off completely, when floods forced Tanacross to move across the river and begin life anew.
In this week’s show, Jerry talks about the loss of that world and Tanacross’ present-day efforts to restore language, culture and Native spirituality.
Jerry is one of those rare people, fluent in both English and his Tanacross Athabascan dialect. It was fascinating to hear his memories roll out in English, echoing the rhythm and the sounds of his first language.
When we crossed the river to Old Tanacross, I really did have the sense that we traveled back in time -- and that voices from the past were reaching out to us.
We hope this show sheds light on the ripple of effects of historical trauma -- the impact of one culture exerting control over another -- often minimized but still the source of so many conflicting emotions.
We’d like to give special thanks to the Tanacross tribe for its warm hospitality and the time spent to educate us about the culture of the community, both past and present.