Photographs taken during the interview with Steven and Catherine Attla and historic images related to their lives
Steven Attla, Sr. was a Koyukon Athabascan elder from Huslia, Alaska. He was born in 1924 near Hughes, Alaska, but his parents moved down to the Cutoff area when he was about three. He grew up living a traditional subsistence lifestyle living off the land; hunting, trapping, and fishing following the seasons to different camp locations. In 1944, he married Catherine Charlie, and they went right to spring camp. They settled at Cutoff, the old village site at the mouth of the Huslia River. In 1949, they moved to the New Huslia village site, another 10 miles down the Koyukuk River. Together they raised nine children, and taught them off to live off the land according to the traditional subsistence lifestyle. Steven worked on the commercial Yukon River barges and in 1965 became a licensed tugboat pilot. For his license test, he had to draw from memory every channel and bend in the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, from Fairbanks to the mouth of the Yukon. He also worked for the Public Health Service and at the Huslia school. Steven was a skilled craftsman, especially known for his traditionally built sleds. He believed strongly in preserving his culture and language, and passing it on to the younger people in the community. Steven's memory abilities also shined when telling stories of growing up in the countryside, making hunting trips, and traveling by dogteam or river boat. While telling stories, Steven would interweave picturesque details with a lesson and good humor. Even in his elder years, Steven spent most of his time hunting, trapping, or fishing near Huslia. At home, he would be busy making sleds or canoes from birch and spruce wood that he milled in his backyard. Neighbors and friends often stopped by his house to enjoy a story or two and they would feel free to seek his help and advice, whether it was about fishing, trapping, or making equipment repairs. Interviews with Steven appear in the Gates of the Arctic Project Jukebox and the Raven's Story Project Jukebox. Steven Attla, Sr. died on October 9, 2014. For more about Steven Attla, Sr. see his obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner newspaper.
Catherine Attla was a Koyukon Athabascan elder from Huslia, Alaska. She was born at Cutoff in 1927, and grew up speaking her Native language and learning subsistence skills and cultural knowledge from her grandparents in their trapping cabins and fish camps. She married Steven Attla, Sr. in 1944, and they went right out to spring camp. They settled at Cutoff, the old village site at the mouth of the Huslia River. In 1949, they moved to the New Huslia village site, another 10 miles down the Koyukuk River. By the time she was 30 years old, Catherine had taught herself how to speak English, and learned how to read and write at the village school. While raising nine children and teaching them to live off the land according to a traditional subsistence lifestyle, Catherine devoted herself to the preservation of her Koyukon language and culture. She worked with anthropologist Richard Nelson and linguist Eliza Jones. She wrote a book of Athabascan stories entitled As My Grandfather Told It. And she spent a lot of time teaching the old ways to village children, visitors and scientists. Catherine was skilled as a traditional skin and fur sewer, beadworker, moose hide tanner, birch bark basketmaker, song maker, and storyteller. She worked as a volunteer health aide, and served for sixteen years on the local Fish and Game Advisory Board. Interviews with Catherine appear in the Gates of the Arctic National Park Project Jukebox and the Raven's Story Project Jukebox. Catherine Attla died on March 12, 2012. For more about Catherine Attla, see her obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner newspaper.