The name Troth Yeddha'

Troth Yeddha' Legacy Initiative

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Troth Yeddha' Run for the Park

The third annual Troth Yeddha' 5k Run for the Park took place September 13, 2014. View results.

Pronouncing the name

Matthew Titus pronounced the name Troth Yeddha' in 1981 in this recording.

Jo lo Troth Yeddha', delo ghw jo tr'edaltth'i right now, university.
 Here then is 'wild potato ridge' here where we are staying now, the university.


About the name Troth Yeddha'

Robert Charlie discusses the significance of the name Troth Yeddha' (October 2011)

The land now occupied by the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus was called Troth Yeddha' (sometimes spelled Troth Yetth) by the Lower Tanana Dene (or Athabascans). Lower Tanana is the indigenous language of the Lower Tanana Valley, spoken east-to-west from Moose Creek Bluff (past North Pole) to Baker Creek/Zitziana River. Some of the main Lower Tanana village sites are Chena Village (Ch'eno' Khwdochaget),  Nenana (Toghotili), Old Minto (Menhti Khwghotthit), and Toklat (Tu Tl’ot Khwdochaget).

The word troth refers to the plant known in English as "Indian potato", "wild potato", or "wild carrot" (Hedysarum alpinum). The word yeddha' means "its ridge, its hill." Linguistically, it can be analyzed as the word yetth "ridge" plus the possessive suffix -a' . Thus the name Troth Yeddha' can be literally translated into English as "Wild Potato Ridge."

Other areas now on and around the UAF campus also have original Athabascan names. Some examples include:

  • Ch'eno' Chena River
  • Sresr Ddhela' Ester Dome (literally: 'black bear mountain')
  • Tr'ekhwghodegi Troth Yeddha' Bena' Smith Lake
    (literally: 'upper wild potato ridge lake')
  • Tr'ekhwghotthidi Troth Yeddha' Bena' Ballaine Lake
    (literally: 'lower wild potato ridge lake')

Various archaeological, linguistic, and oral history records indicate the importance of Troth Yeddha' to the Athabascan people. There is evidence of small a settlement at Troth Yeddha' prior to the 1840s. Troth can still be found in steam beds and flood plains between the university and the Tanana River. The roots of troth are the most important vegetable food for the Alaska Dene.

A description of troth harvesting by the Chena people, very likely in the lowlands south of Troth Yeddha’, was given by Laura Anderson, the last Chena speaker, in her classic woman’s narrative According to Mama (1956:14, reprinted in 2011 by St. Matthews Episcopal Church):

Sometimes women went poking a long pole in the ground all over. When the ground felt just right there was a mice nest. This nest they dug up and there was a cache of Indian potato roots as big as a big basket sometimes. The women put this in a basket and ate it. The mice got nothing!  This Indian potato root people dug, too, and buried it just in dirt. In the middle of winter it had turned just sweet and women peeled off the skin and cooked the white inside root. They would get bear grease boiling and then put the root in.

“Mama” was Helen David Charley (1862-1957). The factual summaries in the book are the earliest first-hand accounts of aboriginal life in the Fairbanks area.

The [troth] is good only during the winter, when the natives gather it, digging for it under the snow. It is then round and full, juicy and tender. After the thaw it loses its qualities, becomes hard, woody, and tasteless. It is also used as a substitute for tea or coffee. For this purpose, the root is sliced transversely in segments 1 to 2 inches long; these are divided longitudinally, by separating the fibers, and these are cut again across in small portions, which are afterwards dried and roasted in a frying pan. They are used as tea, in an infusion, and sometimes as a decoction. The beverage thus prepared is said to taste like chocolate. (Jones and Jetté 2000)

A Tanana Valley War Story

The name Troth Yeddha' features prominently in a story related by Hester Evan. In this important piece of oral history, Hester describes a raid on a small village at 'Indian Potato Hill'. This raid took place in about 1843; there were casualties, and there were three survivors. The story was recorded by James Kari on February 15, 2001, on the University of Alaska campus at the Troth Yeddha' site. Hester uses her own Toklat dialect, pronouncing the place name as Tsoł Teya', but it is nonetheless the same place. This story, powerfully told, clearly speaks to the long history of occupation of Tanana Valley by the Lower Tanana Athabascan peoples.

A transcript of Hester Evan's story can be downloaded here.

See also Peter John's 1991 remarks about a retaliatory raid at Troth Yetth (Troth Yeddha').

Presentation on Lower Tanana place names by James Kari and Robert Charlie

Lower Tanana Athbascan Place Names: The Structure and Function of Shared Geographic Knowledge

Jim Kari and Robert Charlie (in absentia) presented this talk in the UAF Department of Anthropology colloqiium series on Feb 24, 2012.

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