Ways of Knowing: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Dene Tha

By Jean-Guy A. Goulet | Go to book overview

Introduction

*

If you're an Indian, you know what is going on.--Dene Tha speaker

A Dene Tha man and his wife are drinking tea with me at the kitchen table, glancing across the road toward the band office where a judge will soon hold court. Their teenage son will be charged with shooting and nearly killing a close relative. The parents have been telling me how the soul of the child they lost soon after birth was retrieved from heaven and brought back to them to reincarnate. This, they say, was done through the power of older men in the community. The man then shifts the conversation to the impending fate of his son in the hands of the justice. He says: "There are two ways, chint′e ['power'] and [medicine]. You do not say bad medicine. It is good; it is to help others. Some person knows something, his power, he has it. He doesn't like what you do to him. He could think of you one night, and your spirit would follow his power. He could take your spirit, and you get into an accident." The man pauses, looks at his wife, and picks up the conversation again, saying: "Like [that woman] wants to kill him [names a neighbor] through medicine or power, but his mother and dad protect him with their power too. It's like he is in a bottle; they can't get in to you. If you're Indian, you know what is going on; it is really powerful."1

When the man and his wife leave to go to court, I wonder about our conversation. A non-Indian judge will decide their son's fate. The parents know that the evidence that counts in the eyes of the Dene Tha is inadmissible in the court of justice. The judge would not accept that their son was the victim of someone who, out of anger, used his power to make their son lose his mind, causing him to shoot a close relative. The judge would not take into consideration the parents' unsuccessful attempt to use their power to protect their son.2"If you are an Indian, you know what is going on," concludes the man. Can I, a Euro-Canadian anthropologist, understand what is going on? The couple's mother tongue, life history, culture, and social circumstances dif-

-xiii-

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Ways of Knowing: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Dene Tha
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1. Stories from the Field 1
  • 2. True Knowledge and True Responsibility 27
  • 3. Powerful Beings and Being Powerful 60
  • 4. Powers to Heal, Powers to Respect 88
  • 5. Visions of Conflict, Conflicts of Vision 109
  • 6. Journeys of the Soul 142
  • 7. Searching for a Womb 167
  • 8. When the Drum and the Rosary Meet 193
  • 9. Dancing Your Way to Heaven 223
  • 10. An Experiential Approach to Knowledge 246
  • Notes 261
  • References 287
  • Index 329
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