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Article 7

Williams

Caroline Williams

University of Arizona

From One Young Woman to Two Old Women: How Cultural Continuity Is Illustrated Through Athabascan Values

Abstract

Cultural continuity exists in Native America today, although the channel for transmission of cultural values continually changes. Athabascan women in both Alaska and Canada have been interviewed extensively throughout the twentieth century to show important ethnographic details of their lives. Four researchers in particular are of interest in this study because of their research on women’s puberty observances in Athabascan societies: Cornelius Osgood who worked with the Gwich’in in both Alaska and Canada in 1932; Dorothy Libby who worked over the summer of 1948 and 1949 in Southern Yukon Territory, Canada; Anna Rooth who worked in 1966 in Alaska; and Julie Cruikshank who worked in Yukon Territory 1975 – 1976. The above researchers identified personal challenges faced by Athabascan women during times of great change. Changes in government policies, western encroachment and subsequent historical events, such as the gold rush and the introduction of the Alaskan highway, have led Athabascan women to adapt age old observances, for example puberty observances, to incorporate in modern lives. In today’s Northern Athabascan society, puberty seclusion is no longer followed, yet Athabascan values, which girls were taught during puberty seclusion and observances, can be seen in the everyday life of contemporary Athabascan peoples. The transmission of cultural values can be seen in contemporary vehicles, such as Velma Wallis’ book Two Old Women. The discussion which follows illustrates cultural continuity in today’s Northern Athabascan societies, by comparing and contrasting Northern Athabascan people’s puberty observances and seclusion with Velma Wallis’ book Two Old Women. By first examining the early ethnographic scholarship and marking the changes over time, evidence of this continuity can be seen in the continuance of Northern Athabascan values such as self-sufficiency, hard work, and responsibility to village. I further illustrate how such values have endured into the present day.