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Article:Pre Reserve: Traditional Principles

According to an Elder by the name of Charlie Throassie from Black Lake, the old way was a very healthy way of life for the people. Dene people would live each day to survive and they did not care about how they dressed, as long as the clothing was warm. In the summer, the Dene depended on plain fish. It was harder when they had to eat it all the time but there was nothing else. The Elders still reminisce about this era with fond memories. It was indeed a hard life, however the people were healthy. They survived on fresh berries, fish, meat, and roots. If Dene people were to go back in time to try and live the traditional lifestyle, it will be very difficult to do. Everything is different now as there is a lot of change. The Canadian government forced all these changes on the Dene people and still they expect them to live the old way. It can not be done as the old way has been stripped from the people and the land is not as fresh as once it was. The Dene people of Black Lake, Saskatchewan are fortunate for one thing; the language is still strong among all age groups. It is this tool that may bring us back to the way our ancestors lived including the thought pattern. Many Elders are passing on now and the language is going with them. The land is deteriorating at a fast speed. It is ironic because we are destroying the earth to feed many people and yet we can not survive without the earth's elements of clean water, air, plants and animals. We all depend upon one another. Man is the most dependent among earth's creatures and it will be us that destroys the earth with our ambitions and greed for luxury and material things. Things are a lot better now because we do not have to work as hard to live comfortably. As a result, we procrastinate and human health deteriorates. According to old Charlie, when we let our bodies deteriorate, the rest of our being is affected, spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. When this happens we have an unhealthy group of people who are stressed, sick, unhappy and angry about those ills. The white man created a materialistic world. We want the same materials as the person next door and we strive to achieve them at any cost and those who can't achieve lay by the way side in humiliation and anger.

And for those who can afford the good things comes more stress and unhappiness because they do and will never have enough. We are living in a fast and changing world where ancient values and beliefs to live by are lost. There is nothing left but worldly possessions that we do not need. This is not what the creator planned for us. Charlie stresses that he feels sad and helpless as he watches the grandchildren and young people filling the corridors of the white man's prison with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Charlie is referring to "nothing but the clothes on their backs" as without a healthy soul, mental, physical and emotional well being. A person can not find these elements in material goods but only in finding the inner soul, which is “you”, the purpose for your existence on earth. There is fear for the whole human race and the human species are to blame. It is annoying to know that there is nothing to do but talk to our children and live by right and wrong teachings of our grandfathers. Charlie and every elder know that the world is restorable but we have to act now.

Elder Agnes Alphonse talks about our drinking water and she says when you look at any lake now with the exception of the many fresh lakes in the northern part of the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, you don't think about drinking the water- its not good. Today there is so much waste and garbage. She says that she raised all of her children using the moss bag, and we did not need modern diapers that cause pollution. It was a difficult life to live but we were happy and healthy because the children were dry and smelled like the earth, moss has many healing elements that do not cause irritation or diaper rash. The woman would gather caribou hide bags full of moss before freeze up and clean it out until there were no twigs or minor irritations to the skin and then it was stored. Moss can be returned back to the earth; it could be thrown away and it would degrade naturally. The Dene people of the past had many remedies for natural ills such as sunstroke, rashes, and so forth, there were medicine men that specialized in these areas. They knew what to look for on the earth when they search for healing herbs and plants. Today we do not know anything about the land that we live on.

The Dene people of the past did not know about any diseases that are abundant today, perhaps it was the lifestyle of the people.“Many new age researchers tell us that "we are what we eat" and it is believed that people introduced the diseases known to man today, due to the carelessness of earth exploitation and food preservation to feed a vast number of the world's population. Sure, there are Western doctors who specialize in various areas of the medical professions and on different diseases, but how are they going about achieving this? Chemicals, radioactive elements used for X-rays, cat scans, and chemotherapy to treat patients, it seems that we are tampering with the earth's natural elements that are required for human survival to try and save people from dying. If we can restore the earth back to it's natural state, we would save many lives in the long run" David Suzuki.

According to Paul Disain ,an Elder who has passed away many years ago, the Dene people lived for many years and were usually not sick unless they got injured during a hunt or travel. A human body had a strong tendency to heal and renew itself, because the people were healthy. A pregnant woman traveled on foot with the group plus carrying bundles until she was ready to give birth. The midwife would then proceed to build a shelter where the mother would give birth to the baby, the shed would be made out of rough spruce boughs in the winter and a fire would be made to melt snow to use for cleaning the mother and baby. The rest of the group would not wait for the birth including the husband, they would move on ahead in search of food. A few women would stay behind to help the midwife. After birth the new mother would place her baby in the moss bag and put her snowshoes back on and proceed on foot to the destination.

Agnes Alphonse once told that the snow tracks behind the woman looked like a butchering site due to the blood she was pushing through as she walked.

It was a natural thing that people experienced in the old days. The women who recently gave birth were healthy and they were strong enough to walk the journey. It will be difficult to do this today, just because we are not prepared physically. When people died they were buried above land, in the trees on a contraption made from a tree, it was believed that the soul would be closer to the heavens, or universe. The belongings were left with the body. There are no documents or records to indicate statistics of births or deaths Paul Disain, an elder from Stoney Rapids Saskatchewan, once told about the Shaman by the name of Ereøkal who had healing powers to treat people with ailments. He said that our people did not suffer from many diseases because of our natural diet. The people worked very hard and kept fit and received a lot of clean fresh air. The water was all they drank and that was very good for them. He used to say we are what we eat and how we take care of our bodies.

Different diseases that the Dene people were not immune to were first introduced in the late 17th century when the Europeans begin to live among the northern Cree and Dene. This was during the Fur Trade era. According to Henry S. Sharp an anthropologist who lived and studied the lifestyle patterns of the Athabasakan Dene, during the contact period, the Aboriginal people of Athabasca were of no asset to the early fur trade as they refused to partake in the trade. They wanted to keep their life subsistence on the caribou and keep the entire good quality animal furs for themselves as they had done for thousands of years. He also said the Dene starved and lost many people due to starvation alone and that they could not afford to jeopardize the change of lifestyle to hunt for the white man.

In the 1700's the Denes¶øine moved southward into the thick Boreal forest, an area previously used exclusively by the Cree. Although they still continued to use the traditional land to the interior north to the Barren Lands, the Dene people were spending more time in the boreal forest and begun to adapt to European ways of life. At the time of contact the Dene and Yellowknives were exploiting the transitional forest north and west of Fort Churchill to near the mouth of the Coppermine River, (see Map). The fort at Churchill was established in 1717 and the Dene began direct trade after the 1715 peace mission to stop the hostilities between the Northern Cree and the Denes¶øine. One very brave Dene woman accomplished the peace mission. Her name was Thanágheltver, a woman who was taken as a slave by the Cree during one of their raids. The Hudson's Bay journey inland in the 1770's brought the Dene people steady visitors in the Churchill region (Davies 1965: 410-416). It was not until the late 1800's before the Denes¶øine became somewhat comfortable enough to expand their territory to include the Churchill River and Lake Athabasca regions.