Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dene / Family Life

Article: Death

According to a Dene lady, Lucy Robillard, the people believed that death was as important as birth. In traditional times the Dene put all of the deceased's belongings together and burned them. Today this is still practiced to a certain extent. There was a strong belief in reincarnation and that dead relative’s spirits could be reborn in another life so they can continue to remain among the people. There was a belief that if a person completed all the tasks here on the physical plane then we need not return unless very close ties were left on Earth. Death was welcomed at old age and the elders begin to prepare themselves for the next life. Dene people lived as one with the land and they practiced the life cycle. The museums have kept the animal skin pieces that our grandmothers made and depended upon for clothing, tools and shelter. It will never be known about the accurate details because there is not any recorded information available at our disposal, at least from the Dene perspective. Western society was most interested in the customs and manner of dress than in the individuals. They tell us that the Dene women of the past were content to stand in the shadow of a man. Oral tradition reveals that they commanded a respect that would be the envy of our modern supporters of women's rights. It is true that the coming of the Europeans drastically altered the lifestyles of the Denesuøiné. Today under the impact of these new laws and economic changes, the Dene women became very private people attempting to regain their traditional tasks, which seems to be invisible to the mainstream of Canadian society. It is with tremendous hope that this information will help in answering some questions that the children of Indian ancestry may have about their culture.