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

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

7. Searching for a Womb

There is always somebody who knows who it is going to be. They see the spirit going into you.--Dene Tha mother

Following death, people seek a woman's womb in which to be born again. This view is central to the Dene apprehension of themselves and of one another, as documented by Frederica De Laguna ( 1954) for the Tlingit Goulet ( 1989, 1994b) for the Dene Ake Hultkrantz Tha ( 1973) for the Hare Mills ( 1988a and 1988b) for the Beaver and Wetsuweten, and Slobodin ( 1994a) for the Kutchin. Slobodin ( 1994b, 145) writes that "despite official Christian opposition," including "three ordained Anglican priests, two Anglican catechists, a Pentecostal lay reader, a dozen of the most devout Roman Catholic and Anglican laity," the Kutchin remain firm in their conviction that reincarnation occurs. This belief is long-standing. In 1876, for instance, Emile Petitot (in Savoie 1971, 79) reported that, while among the Dene, he tried in vain to dispel a young woman's opinion that she had lived an earlier life under another name and other appearances; he failed equally in his attempts to discredit a grandmother's conviction that she should claim as her own the child of a neighbor that she "knew" to be her own son reincarnated. Were Petitot to visit Dene communities today, he would find the same beliefs and his efforts to discredit the Dene conviction that some individuals are born again would be equally fruitless.1

Views concerning reincarnation differ considerably from one Dene community to another. Among the Dunne-za of northeast British Columbia "all people are said to be the reincarnation of souls who have been on earth before" ( Mills 1988a, 25). This is not so, however, among the Chipewyan, who "believe that new souls are always entering the world" ( Sharp 1976, 31), which explains why the majority of Chipewyans do not recall having had a previous life on earth.2 In Meander River, near Chateh, Adam Salopree told Meili ( 1991, 130) that it is only those who did bad things in their lives that come back to a woman when she is preg-

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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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