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Website aims to preserve Alaska Native culture

The lead producer of The Storyteller, John Sallee, explains the project meant to preserve...
The lead producer of The Storyteller, John Sallee, explains the project meant to preserve traditional Alaska Native stories.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 6:43 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Many traditions from Alaska Native tribes have been lost to history. Preserving what remains has become a priority for many organizations and Indigenous people. At the beginning of Native Heritage Month, ‘The Storyteller’ went live, aiming to spread some traditions that have been saved.

It’s a website that is part of a year-long project put together by several radio stations and other partners according to the lead producer John Sallee.

On it, there are ten traditional stories that go back generations. The stories come from all over the state and are delivered by Alaska Native storytellers of today. Some are even accompanied by short animations.

Sallee said some of them come from archives at KNBA. He said some of the tapes date back to the ’70s, although the stories originated hundreds of years ago.

“We brought them back for listeners of a new generation to really experience these stories in a new and innovative way,” Sallee said. “Often, at times, these stories are kind of really just forgotten about, and we just really didn’t want these stories to be forgotten about.”

They are presented as an interactive night sky. A celestial looking man stands towering over a frozen lake. His name is Canaar, the Storyteller. Users can click on the constellations around him to access the stories.

Canaar is voiced by Bob Petersen, network manager for Native Voice One. He’s also the narrator in one of the stories, “The Baby with the Wide Mouth.”

Petersen described the story as a “frightening tale” that delves into the lesson of vanity and selfishness.

Petersen said all the stories have lessons and perspectives within them. He hopes that they can offer those lessons to a younger generation who hasn’t been exposed to them. He said the stories are meant to be seeds of preservation.

“It takes a lot of hard work, sometimes some luck, and a lot of planting too,” he said.

It’s not just for people who are Alaska Native. In fact, Sallee and Petersen both come from mixed heritages. Petersen said after years of culture being stripped away from Native people, and thus, the lessons to be learned from them, today’s climate makes it more possible to resurface these traditions and preserve them.

“Here in the current society, if we’re able to keep these practices and principles alive, and apply your own heritage to it also, there’s nothing but growth and positivity that can happen from that,” Petersen said.

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