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a group of Athabaskan people living in northern Alaska. Their traditional home is along the Koyukuk and Yukon rivers where they subsisted by hunting and trapping for thousands of years. As the Koyukon reckon it, all things human and natural go back to a time so remote that no one can explain or understand how long ago it really was. However ancient this time may be, its events are recounted accurately and in great detail through a prodigious number of stories.
The stories constitute an oral history of the Koyukon people and their environment, beginning in an age before the present order of existence was established. During this age "the animals were human"—that is, they had human form, they lived in a human society, and they spoke human (Koyukon) language. At some point in the Distant Time certain humans died and were transformed into animal or plant beings, the species that inhabit Koyukon country today. These dreamlike metamorphoses left a residue of human qualities and personality traits in the north-woods creatures.
Taken together, the Distant Time stories describe a primordial world and its transfiguration into modern form. The scope of Distant Time stories ranges from the minute to the cosmological. The explain the beginnings of entities that inhabit the sky—the sun, moon, and aurora. They account for certain weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, which are the transformed embodiment of a formerly human spirit.
At the end of Distant Time there was a great catastrophe. The entire earth was covered by a flood, and under the Raven's supervision a pair of each species went aboard a raft. These plants and animals survived, but when the flood ended they could no longer behave like people. All the Distant Time humans had been killed, and so Raven recreated people in their present form. The Koyukon believe that nature is God, which is why they must respect it.