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

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

2. True Knowledge and True Responsibility

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It's up to this certain person to make up their mind. No one else is going to make up their mind. -- Dene Tha speaker

Dene expect learning to occur through observation rather than instruction, an expectation consistent with the Dene view that true knowledge is personal knowledge. The Dene prefer this kind of knowledge since it is the form that has the most secure claim to being accepted as true and valid. Students of the Dene have often commented on the fact that this theme goes hand in hand with the premium Dene place on "noninterference" or "nonintervention" in the lives of others ( Helm 1961, 174-76; Scollon and Scollon 1979, 185-209; R. Ridington 1987, 15; 1988, 46; Rushforth 1992, 485-88; Goulet 1994a, 114-19).1 June Helm ( 1961, 173) refers to the constellation of Dene traits of behavior and sentiments with which we are concerned here as "the cultural theme of autonomy," in lieu of the cultural theme of "individualism" favored by J. Alden Mason ( 1946) and John Honigmann ( 1946, 1949, 1954). Unfortunately, both these expressions suggest a form of self-assertion that ignores the presence and well-being others. To think so is to ignore an essential aspect of Dene life. True, Dene foster autonomy in one another's lives to the greatest extent possible, but they also "go far out of their way, even if it require[s] substantial camouflage, to prevent others from undertaking activities that might bring them harm" ( Sharp 1994, 40) or to protect them from potential harm, as my instructors did in the middle of the night when they thought I might be in trouble. I therefore refer to the ethical principle of personal responsibility for one's life and that of others where in the past the expression of "noninterference" was used.

The Dene responsibility for one's own life is accompanied by a well-developed sense of one's position relative to others. Everywhere the older and more capable individual has a responsibility to exhibit competent and respectful behavior for younger individuals to observe and learn well. First, everyone's position in a

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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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