Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Voices Revisited

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Voices Revisited

Article excerpt

In 1900 and then again in 1921, Canada sent officials to the Subarctic to make treaty with the Dene, the indigenous peoples in the region. The treaties are known as Treaty 8 and 11. The Dene tell us these were peace and friendship treaties. They valued a treaty of peace and friendship. Their last treaty had been made about 150 years previously when Chief Edzo made peace with the Chipewyan leader Chief Akaitcho - the Ttjchq Dene call it the era of respect.

The Dene say both the white government representatives and the Bishop told them that as long as the river flowed and the sun rose they would be free to hunt and trap on their land as they always have. The Dene were also promised a yearly $5 dollar payment to each man woman and child as well as a fishing net for each family.

This seemed like a good deal - white people could also use the land but for the Dene their homeland and their use of the land remained secure. Dene laws and the Dene way of life would be respected. That is what they heard. That is the story they still tell.

We live in a world full of stories - newspapers, radio, television, books and the cinema. All kinds of stories that we revisit over and over because we like them or when we want to reacquaint ourselves with details that we have forgotten. We capture the story in a fixed format and we use our technological tools to return to them. Remembering them in detail is no longer necessary. We have evolved through our technological genius. We have become human beings who prefer to rest our brain cells than use them to their fullest capacity. We delete the stories from our memory banks and compile them in some other form. Although they inform us, they are no longer vital in our lives.

Stories used to be listened to and remembered, etched into our memories. There are still a few people who have the ability to relive stories from their memory, the elders of our aboriginal communities who have lived in an oral world. Their long-term memory for details is intact. The elders are the keepers of the stories, the history of their people. They learned by listening and remembering and they lived their lives building new stories from the details of their lives, stored carefully in their minds and shared from their hearts.

Nadia Ferrara is an art therapist from the University of McGill in Montreal. She has worked extensively with the Cree of northern Quebec. bec. She works with elders and has her clients create pictures as a way helping them tell their stories to assist them in their healing journey. In her book, Healing through Art, she describes storytelling through the words of a Cree coworker:

Storytelling is used as an instrument of knowledge to promote intellectual and emotional well-being, or miyupimaatisiium (Cree) both at the personal and collective levels. The telling of and listening to a story is both a spiritual and emotional experience because you are involved in doing something meaningful, chistaamaawin (Cree).'

Indigenous society still practices the art of storytelling and thereby the art of listening and remembering. Regrettably most of us living in western society have lost the capacity to just hear and remember. We are linear in our perspective; we need a beginning and an end. We must document, quantify and measure for value. We rely on the strength of our technological roots. The web of natural roots has been lost to a world of cyberspace. We have rested our ears and our memories. Our bodies are pampered so they do not have to function to their fullest.

Andrew Gon, who is now deceased, was once Chief of Gamètî, a small community of Tljchç (also known as the Dogrib Dene). He spoke of Treaty 11 at a Public Inquiry, commonly called the Berger Inquiry, into a proposed Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline. The Berger Inquiry took place between 1975 and 1977. Justice Thomas Berger was appointed by the federal Government to conduct an Inquiry into the construction of a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline down through the Arctic. …

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