Nina Larsson is from the Gwich’in Nation living in Yellowknife.
As a land-based people, Dene have always relied on hunting, trapping, and fishing to survive. But these activities are more than a utilitarian practice of survival, they are integral parts of our culture. Dene do not just take. We have a reciprocal relationship with the land and we must give back to it. Respecting and protecting the land, the water, the animals, and the plants is part of the Dene way of life.
Dene culture is tied to the natural environment, and there are a myriad of sacred and culturally significant sites on our land. Some sites are islands, some are rocks, some are waterfalls, but they all serve a similar cultural purpose; each site has a story or legend associated with it, and telling these legends to our youth when we visit these sites is how our people have passed on our culture and spirituality for countless generations.
Animals are another important part of Dene culture, and also have legends associated with them. These legends passed down from an age when animals could communicate and share important knowledge with humans. Geese, frogs, ravens, loons, caribou and many other animals have shared their knowledge with us, and we continue to pass this knowledge on to our young generations.
Sharing is important to Dene. Our communities are based on sharing and making sure everyone has enough to survive. We have always shared the land with other Indigenous nations of the north. The Dene conception of treaty was as an agreement to share the land with settler populations of the Canadian state, not as legal instrument securing state and Crown sovereignty over Denendeh.
Today many Dene live in communities and participate in the wage economy, but our connection to the land remains strong. Most Dene still rely on hunting to provide food or trapping to provide income. We continue to make offerings at spiritual sites and follow traditional practices when harvesting animals.
The Dene way of life is threatened by climate change and the destructive, polluting resource extraction industries. As a land-based people it is increasingly difficult to practice our spirituality, pass on our languages, or celebrate our culture when the land is drastically changed. Maintaining our way of life means stopping climate change and the devastating industries that are forever altering our land.
Written by Daniel T’seleie
There’s a kind of mystic romanticism some people feel towards the North. The cold, barren aesthetic of a vast, rolling, snow and ice-covered landscape evokes a sense of purity, danger, and winter-wonderland-style adventure. To some, the north represents the final frontier of discovery and adventure, but for others, the north is a homeland and a responsibility.
We are based out of the sub-arctic community of Somba K’e (Yellowknife), which is located in Chief Drygeese Territory, in the Akaitcho Region of Denendeh in Treaty 8 Territory. Denendeh is beautiful, vast and bountiful. Residents have access to clean, fresh water, animals for meat and furs, and trees for heat and shelter if they have the resources to go out on the land and harvest. The economy of the Northwest Territories primarily relies on non-renewable resource extraction: oil, gas, minerals, and diamonds.
The regions of Denendeh include: Akaitcho, Tlicho, Sahtu, Dehcho and the Gwich’in. Whether or not the Inuvialuit Settlement Region is a part of Denendeh is debatable. Inuvialuit falls within the borders of the NWT, but is not represented in the Dene Nation. According to the Bureau of Statistics, there are thirty-four official communities in the NWT. The population of the territory is 43,537, and 48% of the population identifies as Aboriginal. About half (19,752) of the population of the NWT lives in the capital, Somba K’e (Yellowknife). Communities are spread across a huge territory, so that traveling between communities is physically and financially challenging. Many communities are only accessible by plane, some are accessible by road, some by boat, some by snowmobile or dog team, and some are accessible by ice road in the winter.
Denendeh is a beautiful and complicated place. We, like many other regions and Indigenous nations, face a collective dilemma. Denendeh contains and provides many valuable natural resources. People are dependent on the land and the material and spiritual sustenance it provides, but also rely on the industries that exploit and pollute it. This dilemma requires thoughtful and strategic navigation and action to ensure that the future generations of northern communities can experience the beauty and bounty that we do today.
Written by Mandee McDonald
Nina Larsson is from the Gwich’in Nation living in Yellowknife.
Kyla Kakfwi Scott is K’asho Got’ine from Radili Ko living in Yellowknife.
Mandee McDonald is Maskîkow from Churchill, MB.
Melaw Nakehk’o is DehCho Dene/Denesuline from Liidlii Kue.
Heather Nakehk’o is American from Sycamore, Illinois.
Tania Larsson is Tetlit Gwich’in living in Yellowknife.
Amos Scott is Tlicho Dene from the Tlicho Nation living in Yellowknife.
Daniel T’seleie is K’asho Got’ine Dene from Radili Ko.
Eugene Boulanger is Shutaogotine from Tulít’a.
Iris Catholique, a member and former administrator of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, recently relocated to Yellowknife to take on the role and is thrilled to announce a variety of initiatives underway for the fall and winter throughout the territory, including:
“Keeping the Dene culture alive within our people and our communities is what I want to see accomplished,” Catholique says. “There is a gap in this generation where we have lost so much information and teachings due to the displacement of our people in residential schools. We need a place and an organization like Dene Nahjo to keep the teachings of our Elders alive through workshops and gatherings, where we can ensure our traditional arts, skills, and knowledge are not lost.”
To get in touch with Iris, contact her at:
Cell: 1 867 444 3363
Originally from rural, north-central Saskatchewan, Meagan pursued her Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan before completing her graduate diploma in journalism at Concordia University in Montreal.
Prior to earning her media badge, Meagan was an active community organizer in a number of social movements focused on eliminating class, race and gender-based oppression. She now works full time as editor of the Northern Journal, a weekly newspaper covering northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.