North American Indian prophets and prophet movements have long attracted the attention of anthropologists. They have inspired a substantial body of analysis and theory on nativistic, messianic (embracing millenarian) and revitalistic movements, as well as crisis cults. On New Year's day 1892, James Mooney ( 1896) interviewed the Paiute prophet Wovoka. For twenty-two months before and after that interview Mooney pursued in the field the reactions of tribesmen throughout the American West to Wovoka's message of the Ghost Dance. From that time on, most ethnologists seeking evidence on the character and persona of Native American prophets have had to rely on the fading memories of native persons relaying their own observations or the accounts they gained from prior generations, or, especially in those cases far back in time, only the reports and assessments of Euro-American observers. Several modern investigators, however, have had the opportunity to evoke recent memory of dead prophets and see prophets in action among Dene peoples-- Athapaskan-speaking Indians--of northwestern Canada. Materials recently have been published on prophecy among the Beaver and Slavey Dene of British Columbia and Alberta (and will be fleetingly referred to in this study). The interests of those investigators, however, are very distinct from those I bring to this study of prophets among the Dogrib Dene.
I started ethnographic field research among the Northern Dene in 1952 in a small Slavey settlement on the bank of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. In 1959 I began work among the Dogribs of Lac la Martre, shifting in 1962 to Rae, the Dogrib "capital." By then change was proceeding apace in the lives, circumstances, and experiences of the Dogrib people ( Helm 1979, 1980). From 1967 to 1976 I returned to Rae for two or three weeks almost every year. To track social and political developments I usually arrived at "treaty time" (of which, more in the text), when issues between the government and the Indians