by Aislinn Mosher
After conducting almost 30 years of fieldwork among the Tutchone First Nation in the Yukon, Concordia anthropologist Dominique Legros recently published a book that forever preserves a sacred Tutchone heritage.
Tommy McGinty's Northern Tutchone Story of Crow is the first written version of a story that Tutchone elders narrated to their children and grandchildren.
Because most young Tutchone are unilingual English, Legros hopes the book will help preserve the narrative tradition. He also hopes it will inspire non-natives to become acquainted with the culture.
"The story of Crow is the Tutchone's Book of Genesis," Legros said in an interview. "In the past, native cultures have been forced to get acquainted with Christian sacred texts. Isn't it time that Euro-Canadian citizens get acquainted with the sacred texts of Canada's First Nations? Otherwise, why should we call ourselves a multicultural society?"
Tommy McGinty's Northern Tutchone Story of Crow begins with an account of how Crow rebuilds the world after a flood. The story continues with numerous other deeds, including the theft of the sun and the creation of daylight, the theft of water and fish, and various strategies to steal food.
The book also includes stories about Crow's pursuit of women -- accounts that are sexually explicit and often what we would call sexist (like some stories in the Bible). "Crow has a very male nature," Legros explained. "He's greedy for food, greedy for sex, and often a fool.
"But the stories say a lot about human nature," he added. "The stories say that the human condition is the same as that of Crow -- not always very nice."
Legros based his text on several original versions told by Tommy McGinty, a Tutchone Athapaskan elder from the village of Pelly Crossing, in the central Yukon Territory. The Tutchone band council requested that Legros act as scribe for McGinty, who is recognized as a learned elder and one of the best narrators of his time.
McGinty, who died 1993, could neither read nor write, but McGinty did not create the story. The narrative is a collective heritage shared by numerous First Nations in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Alaska, Northern Alberta, British Columbia and Eastern Siberia.
According to Legros, McGinty's wish to have the narrative taped and written down came out of a fear that failure to do so might lead to its demise.
Tutchone children are educated in the Euro-Canadian school system, which, according to Legros, only pays lip service to the Tutchone culture. "The elders have given up," he said. "They speak to their grandchildren in broken English. As a result, the Tutchone language is lost.
"I think future generations will read the stories, and then retell them to their children, as the stories have always been told. They'll memorize them."
Because the book's main task is to pay tribute to the heritage of the Tutchone First Nations, Legros didn't include an analysis of the stories. "An academic study would destroy the whole allure of the narrative," he said.
"In the past, everything I used to write about the Tutchone was theoretical. They didn't give a damn about that -- they weren't interested and would not read my work. They complained that I was working for people down South. This book is a thank-you for teaching me the Indian way."
Legros, a former president of the Canadian Anthropology Society, specializes in non-Western economic and cultural systems, focusing on North American First Nations. He is also editor-in-chief of the French-language journal Recherches Amerindiennes au QuŽbec.
Tommy McGinty's Northern Tutchone Story of Crow is published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. To order, call 1-800-555-5612. For Internet orders: cyberboutique.civilizations.ca or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.