Hutłlaanee mean “its taboo” in Denaakk’e or Koyukon Athabascan. I grew up learning this at a very young age. I learned what was hutłaanee from mother and late grandmother Lydia Simon of Huslia. There are many traditional beliefs to follow and if you break them it is often times hutłaanee. Koyukon Athabascans survived thousands of years with their strong belief systems.
My aunt, Irene Henry, recently pointed out one belief. When you go hunting, you don’t say, “I’m going out hunting.” We usually say we are going out or going for a boat ride. We don’t want to assume we are going to get lucky when going out hunting. We don’t want to give ourselves bad luck or wish anyone else bad luck.
When we go to a new place, we burn a tiny amount of food as a small offering and prayer. This is called anthła (not sure about the spelling). Many of beliefs are unspoken. We believe in them so strongly, we don’t talk about them too much.
My children in Anchorage don’t know as much about what is taboo. One belief I have shared with them is that woman and girls are not supposed to say the word bear, talk about it or eat it. I’m breaking the belief to share it and sometimes I just have to say it in the city. We refer to it with other words if necessary. It is hutłaanee when we say it. That particular animal is a powerful being. I respect the beliefs.
When we drop food, we say ana’sa baaba (not sure how to spell ‘ana’sa’). The phrase is like saying, precious food. A long time ago, there were starvation days. Athabascans had to preserve food and couldn’t afford to waste even a little bit. We have to respect food and take care of it. If we drop food without saying ana’sa baaba, then it could be considered hutłaanee. I still say the phrase automatically when I accidentally drop food. I might whisper it to myself in a public place in the city, but I still say it.
There are many beliefs that I learned growing up in the village. Some are harder to explain and follow than others. Some make sense. Some of them are easier to understand if you speak Denaakk’e. I practice the beliefs and traditions as much as I can, but I know there so much I don’t know. I better get researching.