A multi-touch book for the iPad and Mac, available on iBooks Store

All proceeds from From the First Beginning iBooks support APE’s Kalifornsky Project.

Kalifornsky Project Journal


The stories say that from the First Beginning the animals talked among themselves and to the humans. They formed partnerships with each other. They called the humans the Campfire People.


Peter Kalifornsky (1911-1993) was a member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, a Dena’ina Athabaskan who lived in Kenai, Alaska. He was one of the last native speakers of his language—a dialect of Dena’ina—and the first to bring it into written literature. Among his ancient tales was Ggugguyni Sukt’a, Crow Story, which tells how Crow (the Raven) gave songs and their first story to the Campfire People.

Long time ago, the Dena’ina did not have songs and stories. Then came the time that Crow sang for them. Till then, as they worked together and traveled, di ya du hu kept them in time . . . .


Read and listen to Peter Kalifornsky’s great “Crow Story.”


Readers have commented:

I am pleased to see the development of From the First Beginning When the Animals Were Talking: The Work of Peter Kalifornsky, compiled, and edited by Katherine McNamara. The presentation of this material in a multitouch edition is exciting and will be invaluable for the Alaskan tribes and schools, scholarly and general public. The late Peter Kalifornsky was a Dena’ina scholar and well-respected in Alaska for his gift in relaying traditional knowledge that is so important to the younger generation.

—Karen Evanoff, Dena’ina Cultural Anthropologist


In addition to its value as a cultural artifact, Kalifornsky’s writing, with its skillful use of metaphor, form, and theme, has lasting merit as a work of literature, one which helps reveal the cultural beliefs of his tribe and the operation of its collective creative imagination across time. Kalifornsky’s writing also raises important questions relevant to comparative literary theory—about Western thinking, the individual as the creator of art, the use of politics in writing, and other issues essential to discussion about what constitutes literature in the first place.

For thirty years Katherine McNamara has been committed to the preservation of Kalifornsky’s work, having received his approval for her efforts and her translations into English of his work. She may well be the only person completely familiar not only with Kalifornsky’s manuscripts and the culture in which they originated, but with the spirit and intention of his work.

—Sheila McMillen, former Associate Editor, Virginia Quarterly Review


To say that Katherine McNamara’s four-volume compendium of the writings and commentaries of Peter Kalifornsky is an important work does not convey just how important it is to the Dena’ina people, Alaska Native cultures, and, I believe, to readers everywhere who will be touched by it. The wisdom of Peter Kalifornsky’s work is as relevant to contemporary readers as it was to Dena’ina people of the past. From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking, and the remaining three volumes of the stories, commentaries and conversations of Peter Kalifornsky, is a cultural and literary legacy preserved and presented to the public by a writer who took the time to get it right.

—Leonard Kamerling, Curator of Film, Museum of the North, and Professor of English, University of Alaska


Kalifornsky Project Journal


Peter Kalifornsky was born on Oct. 12, 1911, in Kalifornsky village, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.

Considered the last speaker of his Dena’ina language, which is of the Northern Athabaskan language group, Peter Kalifornsky was dedicated to preserving his language through his published writings, recordings, and teachings. He was the son of Nikolai Kalifornsky (1884-1965), grandson of Aleksay Kalifornsky (1867-1926), great-grandson of Feodore Kalifornsky (1826-1896), and great-great-grandson of Qadanalchen, chief of the Kalifornsky Village, who received his surname while at Fort Ross in California. His mother, who died when he was two, came from the distinguished Chickalusion family. Her brother, Simeon Chickalusion, was the last traditional chief of the Cook Inlet Dena’ina.

Peter Kalifornsky died on June 5, 1993, in Nikiski, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska.

His published books:

  • Kalifornsky, Peter. Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga: the Kenai People’s Language. Edited by James Kari. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 1977.
  • _________. K’tl’egh’I Sukdu: Remaining Stories. Edited by Jane McGary, and James Kari. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 1984.
  • _________. A Dena’ina Legacy — K’tl’egh’I Sukdu: the Collected Writings of Peter Kalifornsky. Edited by James Kari, and Alan Boraas. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 1991.
  • _________  and Katherine McNamara. From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking: the Animal Stories of Peter Kalifornsky. Translated by Peter Kalifornsky, and Katherine McNamara. Edited by Katherine McNamara. Vol. I, From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking. Charlottesville, Virginia: Artist’s Proof Editions, 2014.



Katherine McNamara, editor and producer, is the author of a non-fiction narrative, Narrow Road to the Deep North, A Journey into the Interior of Alaska, and founding editor and publisher (1996-2007) of Archipelago, a journal of literature, the arts, and opinion published on the Web. She directs Artist’s Proof Editions and is an iBooks producer. She is has been a Fellow several times at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and is a member of the Virginia Arts of the Book Center. She has spoken about the work of Peter Kalifornsky as writer and theoretician of writing at Cambridge University, University College Dublin, and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and has published articles on his work in Alaska Quarterly Review and New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism. She is on Facebook and may be reached at kalifornskyproject @


Cover image: “Trickster” ©Guy L. Monty. Used with permission and thanks.

Kalifornsky Project journal

  1. […] three songs, with the lyrics as he wrote them, and our translation. You can read it also in From the First Beginning. He sings for us and tells us how he made the song: how it came to him while “thinking about […]

  2. […] From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking […]

Comments are closed.