This recording is of Bessie Denny (1870 – 1973) telling stories in Tlingit with her son Henry Denny, (1902— 1979, Tlingit names Asdax̱aay, Gitx̱wán, and G̱ashéiḵsh IV) translating into English, in Saxman, Alaska, February, 1966. This was a tape prepared for public use at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp Convention. Bessie tells the history of the Saanyá Ḵwáan, the people of Cape Fox, which comprises the Neix̱.ádi, Kiks.ádi and the Teiḵweidí clans. She tells of the migration routes, place names and acquisition of crests. The stories are significant for the storytelling and capable translation of two master storytellers of the Cape Fox area in Bessie and Henry Denny; for an example the deep history of traditional Tlingit people’s connection to a place, where there is history and life in everything; and for an early recording of a master orator in Bessie Denny.
The most well-documented Tlingit speakers were born from the 1890s and after. The texts transcribed and translated by the ethnographer John Swanton in Tlingit Myths and Texts (1909) represent part of the small handful of documentation from Tlingit speakers born earlier than the 1890s, and the oldest speaker from the modern era includes texts from Sally Hopkins (Sx̱aastí) documented in Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America (2008, Dauenhauer), who was born in 1878. This recording represents an earlier dialect than much of the extant documentation of Tlingit Elders. It is a rare recording from the older generation of Tlingit speakers, told in masterful detail and with brilliant visual acuity by Bessie Denny, and expertly translated by her son Henry.
This recording was donated to SHI by Bessie Denny’s great grandson, Bruce Kelley.
Project funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).