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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.