Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dene / Family Life

Article: Pubescence

A Dene person wakes up every morning and the first thing on the mind is the group's survival, so careful instruction and protocol was practiced everyday. If they made it safely through the day, then they prayed for another prosperous day. Dene people planned for the next day but not too far in advance. They were cautious because it was believed that if they planned too far ahead this would bring bad luck to the people's survival. The Dene believed their lives were in the loving hands of the creator and by planning out our lives, there was an indication of mistrust in the creator. The women were instructed by the grandmothers from childhood on how to properly carry their special power, the girls had the power to bring forth life and this was not to interfere with the hunt and trapping. A young woman at the time of her first menses was left in isolation away from the camp, the hunters and their gear. It is believed that if their blood came into contact with the men's hunting gear, the animals will remove themselves from giving their lives up for the survival of the Dene people. The woman at her time of the month is believed to be very powerful that she will steal away all the power from the men and disrupt future successful hunts.

The women were encouraged at this time to connect themselves with their spiritual side and to come to grips with the power within. During this time she will receive elderly lady visitors usually these will be women who have had visions. The girls were instructed on how to behave after this time alone. She was exposed to stories and teachings of the natural and spiritual world; the balance between the two worlds and how to behave within this realm.

Both the girls and boys were "tied" at the time of puberty by the grandmothers. This meant that caribou hide strips were tied to the wrists, legs, neck and waist and this was believed to give them strength, courage and wisdom and to keep the evil spirits away. The decision as to when it was safe for the girl to leave isolation was entirely up to the shaman. During time of heavy travel the girl would be left behind with an elderly woman until it was safe for her to join the tribe. She was expected to work for her survival, get wood, set snares and make nets and sew, she had to become strong and to show the people that she was capable. Once the girl was back in her parents home, she was expected to behave properly: to avoid the eyes of men, be conservative and sit properly in mixed company. She was also to avoid occupation around the men especially during menstruation, and avoid stepping over a man's foot, legs or his hunting gear. The girl was now ready for marriage and she was given to a man whom the parents had chosen for her. By the time the young couple married they knew the rules and reasons for marriage; in general they followed them.