The Dene Elders Project
Volumes I & II
Edited by Lynda Holland
and Mary Ann Kkailther
2002, 118 and 178 pages $25
I hear the striking of the drum, it seems like my body
is on fireĒ Ė Helen Joseyounen.
This haunting quote is used
at the front of the book which describes this connection
of the distant past.
This is the Land of Little Sticks, the area home to
the Dene once known as the Chipewayan. It spans the
sub-arctic belt of northern Alberta, Saskatchewan
and Manitoba and southern Nunavut.
This two volume series consists of oral history of
the region gathered almost thirty years ago by Larry
took the talents of Lynda Holland and Ann Kkailther to
get them onto paper and accessible to everyone.
are the flavour cubes of history. Densely packed and
loaded with historical goodies to be cross-referenced.
Having said that, they are primarily of interest to
those living in the area or, for canoeists, those
travelling though it. Thatís what Lynda Holland and
partner Bill Layman have been doing for several years
while paddling throughout the region. Their online trips
are interlaced with the peopled past of the now-empty
lands they travel through.
first volume concentrates on the area of the upper
Churchill River near the settlements of La Loche and
Buffalo Narrows, The second volume spreads out to
encompass a much larger area to the north including
Wollaston Lake, Black Lake and the communities of Stony
Rapids, Fond du Lac and Uranium City.
book includes maps and a historical overview of each
community. Original researcher Larry Hewitt, working for
the province of Saskatchewan, lived with his family
among the Dene soaking up 60 audio cassette tapes of
memories of a life that was rapidly fading away.
of these interviews involve the everyday tasks of life
in an era now gone and it sheds light on a civilization
based on living in the wilderness and the connection to
it. These books are more than just transcribed tapes
however. Researchers had to check the facts in the
communities and clarify many things before publication.
It must have been a painstaking process but tremendously
thing that strikes you from the stories is how much they
used the land. Living off it, travelling on it, using it
at all times of the year. There are also some great
photos, showing land-hardened people in their finery or
at special times. Many of the interviews include the
many priests who had such a great effect on the Dene.
One photo of windburned, white-bearded father Jean Louis
Riou of Black Lake is a true classic.
many of these often short remembrances are pieces of
thread that when woven together make up the Dene
culture. Itís rewarding for modern-day canoeists to find
the tendril for the area they will be travelling in.
is much of the spiritual nature of the people from the
time before Christianity. This was a big part of the
Dene life and wisps of those ancient beliefs remained
alive at the time of the interviews. These labours of
love are privately published and difficult to locate. To
order contact Lynda Holland directly at Box 327, La
Ronge, Sask. S0J 1L0. Phone: 306.425.2858 or e-mail:
ó Michael Peake
$29.95 - 2003
James Raffan wave continues to gain strength. The
multimedia master of paddling prose has moved into
another area of interest and talent - canoe music. Along
with fellow ex-professor Paul Mills, Raffan formed
Portage Productions and this is their first offering.
This is a compilation CD of
13 songs, three of which are brand new. This is
strongly folked-based stuff, 100 per cent whole wheat
and very good for you!
Many of the artists are
familiar; Bruce Cockburn, Fred Penner and Tamarack come
to mind. The rest are primarily established artists
undoubtedly well-known to the folk crowd and a welcome
revelation to the many of us not as familiar to the
genre. I was particularly impressed the the pure and
clear voice of Eileen McGann singing Canoe Song at
Bruce Cockburn is a major
talent and while not always loving his style of music,
his beautiful 30-year old ballad Let Us Go Laughing is a
delightful and poignant memoir of a canoe trip with
friends. Not surprising since Cockburn - like Gord
Lightfoot - is an accomplished paddler.
I thought the liner notes
were wrong concerning two of the new songs. Jeff Hale
sings the lovely Blue Canoe Lullaby and Shelley
Posen has some fun with When I First Stepped in a
Canoe. The twist comes from the fact that Shelley is
a man and Jeff is a wom!
Itís a safe bet to think
there will be more such offerings from Portage
Productions. And if the card Mr. Raffan recently sent
Che-Mun is any indication we have a good idea where
the next venture lies. On itís cover was a wonderful
portrait of an Inuit woman - penned by the one-and-only
J. R. of course!
ó Michael Peake