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Waterways: a film about water, language, and a changing way of life

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Title: Waterways: a film about water, language, and a changing way of life
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: In this talk, we report on an interdisciplinary project involving a hydrologist, a linguist, and a media designer, to document the ways in which water has shaped and continues to shape the way of life for the Tetlin people.

The old settlement of Last Tetlin lies among numerous lakes and small rivers near the origin of the Tanana river in eastern interior Alaska. The traditional language of the Tetlin people is the Tetlin dialect of Upper Tanana Athabascan, but today, only a few handfuls of speakers remain. Water and its changes through the seasons and across decades form the matrix in which this culture has functioned for thousands of years. Water provides both resources (fish) and travelways (via boat and winter trail network) to access these and other resources, leading to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Many of the old-time stories tell of the people’s interactions with their land, as can be seen in David (2011), a collection of Tetlin narratives.

While documentation of the relationship between the landscape and the people living in it has been a focus in Alaskan Athabascan research due to the efforts mainly of James Kari (see e.g. Kari 1997, 2010 or Kari and Fall 2003 for a small selection), the resulting compilations of lists or story collections are by definition static. Additionally, they are scholarly works and as such not always easily accessible to members of the language community or the general public.

In “Waterways”, we present three short story segments illustrating the relationship between the Tetlin people and their waterscape using the original (Upper Tanana Athabascan) audio, animated text, and, following every Athabascan line, a spoken English translation. Enriching this material with maps, airborne images of hydrologic features, archival imagery, and new video footage of the Tetlin area, we created an educational, museum-quality exhibit suitable for anyone with an interest in the changing way of life of an interior Alaskan Athabascan group.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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