Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dene / Family Life

Article: Child Rearing

Dene people welcomed newborns into the world with the greatest of all joys, especially boys. The father of the boy was said to deliver a stick of spruce to every household upon hearing the news, but if the baby were a girl, the father would be happy but did nothing. The grandmother of the girl would deliver spruce boughs to the child's household. The wood or spruce represented warmth for the child's new home. the spruce being delivered by the father to neighboring homes represented the sharing of future hunts. An elder woman or medicine woman/man was called out to the delivery if there were difficulties. Usually a woman who had already given birth to babies would be called in to help with the childbirth. It was considered improper for a woman who couldn't have children to help in the birthing. This was because it was believed that her presence would cause the child and mother distress and the birth would take a long time causing difficulties. In the old days it was very harsh when women gave birth, especially in the winter or on a trap line. It is at these times that experienced midwives were not close by and the husband had to deliver the baby.

The people were prepared for the hunt and caribou were always respected even before the birthing. The man had to go hunting to make certain that there was enough to eat for days ahead because the man was not allowed to hunt for some time after helping his wife give birth. The umbilical cord was cut, releasing the baby from the mother. The cord was given to the maternal grandmother to keep until the next baby was born, then upon the second child's safe arrival the grandmother would hang the cord up in a tree. The Dene believed if an animal ate this cord that animal or bird would become the child's guardian spirit.

Children were taken care of by their mother and other elderly women in the camp. They were closely observed by everyone for unusual personality traits. They were not expected to do too much until they began to get smart, which, according to a lady elder, is four years old. At this time the child is given a name and their education begins. The girls were the responsibility of the women and the father instructed the boys. For the most part the women and grandmothers of the community gave instruction to the boys and girls on doing things the right way.