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

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

3. Powerful Beings and Being Powerful

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It all goes back to the time when animals were like human beings, they could talk and everything.--Dene Tha speaker

The Dene Tha, like any other human population, live "not directly or nakedly" in their environment but within a body of assumptions and taken-for-granted propositions developed within their historical and social situation ( Frye 1982, xvii). We all perceive our environment and its inhabitants according to our notions, however implicit, of personhood, nature, or animal. The following statement by Stanley Fish ( 1980, 370) applies equally to the Dene Tha, to the writer of this book, and to its reader: "Whatever seems to you to be obvious and inevitable is only so within some institutional or conventional structure, and that means that you can never operate outside some such structure."

The purpose of this chapter is to uncover part of the Dene conventional structure concerning powerful beings and the process of becoming a powerful person. Among the Dene Tha, as elsewhere, including among social scientists, notions of power and powerfulness encode "ideas about the nature of the world, social relations, and the effects of actions in and on the world and the entities that inhabit it" ( Arens and Knapp 1989, xii).1 Dene Tha, like many other Dene, "frequently refer to knowledge, power, and their use by individuals when explaining how and why events take place" ( Rushforth 1992, 486). The concept of powerfulness that Dene have in mind, however, is not the one we usually associate with the legal and political realm, consisting in the ability to impose one's will on another; nor is it the one we examined in the first chapter, where, following Sharp, we defined power as the ability to accomplish one's goal by oneself without compelling anyone else to act in a certain way. When Dene speak of a power, they think of a powerfulness inherent in plants, animals, or other substances, which can affect human beings knowingly or unknowingly. This powerfulness can be tapped by hu

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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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