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Article: The Dene World View

It was suggested earlier that the Dene people share a common worldview with the Inuit people of the Arctic. The reason is the geographical location and the harsh winter environment in which both tribes had to adapt to. As a result their survival skills, technology, societal mobility, trades or area of specialization are similar. People adapt to their environment and then create a culture that is gradual and incremental. In time they adopt certain values, beliefs and assumptions about their world with the use of rich oral education that is continually part of their heritage. There is one legend that attempts to explain how the Dene people came to be at the beginning of time. An elder of Black Lake told the legend. A long time ago, according to oral traditional teachings, the Dene people did not have any warm weather for long periods of time and the summers became shorter and shorter until one day it disappeared. The animals all got together to discuss the problem in the hopes to find a solution to the problem. They had nothing to lose because if they ignored the situation, it would remain and they would perish. All of the animals gathered by the fire but the bear clan was missing, five animals were selected to look for the bear clan. The maria fish was placed in charge of the search along with the fox, mouse, lynx, and the jack fish. They made a plan of execution in advance because they were certain the bear clan stole the warm atmosphere.

The mouse was chosen for her ability to fragment any thing that she can with the use of her strong teeth and because of her small body structure. The lynx was chosen for his powerful force and quick reflexes. The jack fish for her strength under water, and her ability to swim and flap her fins and tail to get herself out of danger. The fox would aid by carrying the warm atmosphere from the bear clan using his wit and swift movement, finally the maria fish would combine the cold and warn atmospheres upon their return. The maria fish in the Dene culture is viewed as the king of the aquatic. The search began and for many days they walked and swam, when finally the lynx saw some sort of twig and an area of melt above the snow covered land. He informed the others and the fox and lynx began to enter the cave like area. As they cleared away the snow, warmth could be felt and they knew this was what they had been searching for. The group discovered bear cubs alone. A question was asked about the bundle hanging from a latch on the ceiling of the den and to this the cubs replied “that is my fathers warm weather”. Before the cubs could say another word the fox snatched the bundle and ran off toward the lake to swim and deliver the bundle to the jack fish. The maria was further in the depth waiting for the jack fish. Meanwhile, the little mouse was busy chewing away at the bear’s paddle to weaken the structure. The lynx stayed behind to prevent the bear from following too soon so the mouse would have more time. During the struggle, the bear managed to get away from the lynx. He jumped into his boat and began to paddle toward the fox. He was getting very close when finally his paddle broke and was left in the middle of the vast water.

The fox delivered the bundle to the jack fish who immediately dove and gave it to the maria fish. He then dove into the deep and released the warm atmosphere. The combination made a loud thunder. The maria's tail got caught between the two powerful atoms, that is why her tail is flat to this day. The Great Spirit created the world and according to the Dene legends the world needed to adapt to the new creation and it's parts. There are many different ancient stories about creation among First Nation's people and many are similar, for example, all the stories contain elements of our natural environment.

The Dene oral tradition is replete with countless stories of creation and culture heroes, such as the one just told. In general, Dene stories are divided between the two categories:
(þqtú hoghena nüsí hotßü honü) accounts of reality and (üæqhzé) spiritual or myths. The former, accounts for the real life events of the Dene, whereas the latter concerns itself with the creation of the world and how we came to be. An ancient story about the caribou boy is based on (üæqhzé).

The story discusses a time when the animals and humans were not yet differentiated. "We had to be like an animal, think like an animal, and speak like an animal in order to survive all those centuries upon a harsh land". The Caribou boy story is known as a true event to the Dene people. It recalls a boy who had the ability to transform himself into a caribou. In this myth, the Dene boy underwent transformation between the two states of human and animal. He goes to live with the caribou. He did this to assure the people that the caribou will always return each winter and aid survival of the Dene people. The boy becomes the leader of the herd and leads them each year to the villages. The stories of the Dene always revolve around the caribou and the wolves. The Raven and the wolverine were known as tricksters due to their ability to eat at the expense of another hunter, for example a wolverine will check the traps before the trapper checks them and the raven always waits for road kill or other dead animals to devour.

“A trickster is at one time a creator and a destroyer; it gives and negates in the process. He easily deceives others and at the same time dupes himself. He doesn’t know either good or evil and yet he is responsible for both”. The wolverine and the raven will stop at nothing to fulfill their desires and appetites because they possess no values, beliefs or assumptions, yet they do not know that they are teaching important life lessons that include these values.

When an elder speaks about these myths and real stories of long ago there is a common mirth among listeners. This is usually because the stage is set with spruce boughs for flooring a tent as the show hall. As the fire gently crackles away, the elder sits in a quiet reminiscent state. The elder looks so lonely and heartbroken but she also adds laughter because laughter is a strong medicine. She speaks about the Raven, wolverine and a mythical legend called Tßághitßágh and their trials and tribulations. Usually the stories are hilarious. Myths are created by storytellers to explain the Dene presence and to reflect our basic human need; the need explained by a psychologist and anthropologist Dr. Maslow in the theory of human motivation, (2001). The need and desire to understand the world and how we fit in as human body. To the Inuit and the Dene people we are part of the natural world and in our post - modern society, we are also separate from it. We are societal creatures of our own free will and yet as a Dene people we still posses the values, beliefs and assumptions about the natural world so we are still very much a part of it.

Our Dene worldview that dominated our society for thousands of years has now accompanied the social changes in the world we live in, so the two are inseparable. The Dene worldview of their ancestors had a different structure, it was based upon the natural world of animals, ecology, aquatic beings and the natural elements: fire, wind, sky and water. The human animal was always interconnected with those elements. We must look inward and ask the question about what is important to us. What sort of values and beliefs should we adopt and then ask ourselves why theses values are so important to our First Nations people across the world and why are some different? The Dene have strong ties to their kinship. The unity of a family structure is important to the whole community. The elders tell us to be sensitive to the land, water, sky or universe, and animals and plants because they offer life. Man and woman are not directors in that environment but an integrated part of a whole system. The Dene rely on the environment and it's species. We do not abuse what the creator has loaned to us to protect, for example; the caribou is not abused and every part of it is used for something and what is not usable is burned. A ceremonial service is performed at the burning with hours of singing and prayers to the caribou that they will keep returning to our people. Elders are treasures in Dene society because they teach about history and how they must live as a people in harmony. Values and beliefs are handed down from generation to generation as they envelope our stories of trials and tribulations.