I have spent the last few weeks paddling the Dehcho River from Deh Gah Gotie (Fort Providence) to Łíídlįį Kų́ę́ First Nation (Fort Simpson) with the Dechinta Rivers Semester.
We began our Dehcho journey in Deh Gah Gotie. This was significant because many Dene children were taken from their parents and their homes along the Dehcho and forced into the residential school here. We launched our canoes from the same dock the mission boat landed at the end of summer. Jim Antione showed us the old foundation of the school and we acknowledge the violence and pain this site still holds.
From Deh Gah Gotie, we paddled long days through intense sun. Over the next week, we travelled 260 km with Elders Sam Gargan, Jim Antione, and Celine Antione visiting important cultural, historical and spiritual sites along the way including Redknife and Rabbitskin. Jim, Sam and Celine have been so generous in sharing their Dene brilliance with the group through storytelling, teachings and example, deepening our understandings of the Dehcho region, local political struggles and the Dene connection to the land and the river. Eagles, beavers, terns and bears have reminded us of the Dene’s intimate relationship to this magnificent river.
We spent 5 days in Tthets’ek’ehdeli Got’ie (Jean Marie First Nation) at the Dehcho Dene Zhatie immersion camp learning Dene Zhatie from Andy Norwegian, Chief Gladys Norwegian and their team of Elders and fluent speakers team. This was a wonderful experience. We learned how to make bannock, scraped a moose hide, picked berries, sang songs, made birch bark baskets and learned local place names all in Dene Zhatie. We thought deeply about the importance of language and how to revitalize our languages in our own lives and communities. We also laughed a lot.
We arrived in Łíídlįį Kų́ę́ First Nation on Thursday July 20 to warm crowd of smiles and cheers. Our time in Łíídlįį Kų́ę́ First Nation was spent doing ceremony, feasting, participating in a community symposium with Chief Jim Antione and a drum dance. On Sunday, Ehtsue Ethel Lamothe will join the group as they began their paddle to Wrigley.
I will be forever grateful to Melaw, Deneze, Celine, Jim, Sam, Ethel and Jim for sharing this experience with me. Mahsi Cho to all the Elders and communities that have welcomed and embraced Dechinta Rivers thus far. This is an incredible group of Indigenous students, Elders, guides, documentary filmmakers and Dechinta facilitators – check back for updates on the next leg of their journey.