Prophecy and Power among the Dogrib Indians

By June Helm | Go to book overview

Appendix

Dogrib Leadership

In the period treated here, the reservoir from which Dogrib leadership was drawn consisted of men usually aged forty or more who were recognized by their peers as men of sense and probity and who were (or, in the case of very old men, had been) rustlers--good hunters and trappers. For a man to perform a continuing role as a leader, he should also be a "'good talker' . . . who can richly and forcefully express the wisdom based in commitment to and concern with group needs and values" ( Helm 1972:81).

After the Dogribs and the other Dene peoples north of Great Slave Lake "signed Treaty" in 1921, the Canadian government required that there be a chief and a set of councillors for the official government "band" of the Rae Dog Ribs. (The Yellowknife B Band had officially come into being in 1900, when leaders of Dogribs trading into Fort Resolution on the south side of Great Slave Lake "signed" Treaty no. 8.) In the Rae Dog Rib Band, to which I will limit discussion, there were in the 1960s seven councillors (gwatia) plus the head chief (gwatindeh). The councillors, or "little chiefs," represented a codified and rigidified version of the regional and subregional band leaders of pretreaty times. The Rae Dogribs did not elect a chief and councillors until 1971, two years after the Old Chief retired from office in favor of his son. Until that year they held to the pretreaty tradition of consensual selection of chief and councillors.

The character and performance of leaders and candidates for leadership is always open to assessment and reevaluation by their peers. As one Dogrib explained in respect to councillors:

Just the Indians decide. They [the mature men of the regional group] have a meeting. . . . If a chief is not right they can fire him and get another one to replace him. . . . They talk to each other about that guy who is going to be chief. One of them says [Soand-So should be chief], then another. Four or five guys say he is

-155-

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