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Journals of Nineteenth Century Russian Priests to the Tanaina: Cook Inlet, Alaska

Joan B. Townsend
Arctic Anthropology
Vol. 11, No. 1 (1974), pp. 1-30
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40315831
Page Count: 30
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Journals of Nineteenth Century Russian Priests to the Tanaina: Cook Inlet, Alaska
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Abstract

The nineteenth century was an intensive period of directed and non-directed change among the Tanaina Àthapaskan Indians in southwestern Alaska, particularly in the Cook Inlet region. Russian fur traders, Russian Orthodox Missionaries and, after 1867, Euro-American traders acted as primary agents of change. Historic documents have become increasingly important resources for reconstructing the conditions during early contact situations and understanding the forces to which the Tanaina reacted. The journals of the Russian Orthodox priests from Kenai are examples of such a source. Abbot Nicholas, a priest at Kenai from 1845 to 1867, has recorded particularly useful information on contemporary conditions and Tanaina ethnography. On the other hand, Hieromonk Nikita described his attempts to eradicate aboriginal Tanaina religious practices during his tenure at Kenai, 1880 to 1886, and Priest John Bortnovsky stressed the Euro-American conflicts with both the Tanaina and the priests as well as the economic crisis between 1895 and 1906. In addition, a petition by the native people of Kenai reflects conflicts with the Euro-American traders, while a report of parish conditions provides insight into the dubious success of the priests in wiping out Tanaina beliefs. In the following paper, an historical background is provided which includes a discussion of the manuscript source, an ethnographic summary of Tanaina culture, a brief review of the Russian Orthodox Church history in Alaska, and a biographic sketch of each priest whose journal was edited.

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