Editor’s note: Catherine Lafferty is writing a series of columns on the Dene laws. This week’s installment is on the eighth of the nine laws, which is: “Pass on the Teachings.”
Whenever I visit my relatives I am surrounded by lessons but sometimes those lessons are so subtle that they often go unnoticed. Take for instance the simple act of shaking a hand when greeted. This is a big form of respect in Dene culture, especially after travelling long distances across land and water.
Over the years I’ve also learned to never turn down food that is offered to you.
It’s a form of disrespect, which is why when elder James Sangris recently gutted and filleted a large trout for me in under two minutes and offered me the head and the tail I gladly accepted. Plus, I just love trout fish cheeks and couldn’t resist!
Then there are the more obvious teachings. The stories that we need to retain and pass down to the generations to come.
I was recently invited to Behchoko where I learned about the Peace Agreement that happened between Edzo and Akaitcho more than 200 years ago.
I did not know about this story until I attended a Peace Agreement workshop and it made me wonder why no one ever told it to me. I was ashamed with myself.
I should have known this important story, but there are some stories that are told to us at the exact time that we need to hear them and maybe I just wasn’t ready to hear this story up until recently.
When I finally learned of the powerful story between the two great warriors of that time in history it just about brought me to tears because the story is still so relevant today.
The story of how Edzo and Akaitcho made peace is a story that all northerners should be fully knowledgeable of as it is an important event in the history of the North before colonization.
The story is full of strength, anger, humility, patience, forgiveness, trust, the love of family and the power of medicine.
When watching the animation, I saw my own son in Akaitcho. He is tall like Akaitcho was and temperamental. He also has the potential to be a very strong leader like Akaitcho was.
In Edzo I saw a man that was very patient and only wanted peace among the two tribes, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice his own life for it. It made me proud that the two leaders were able to find a resolution.
Finding new ways of retelling old stories is very beneficial because our ancient Dene stories can still very much be applied today.
Each of our Dene stories contain multiple layers of teachings within them and we can all rely on those stories in our everyday lives for strength, guidance and understanding but we can’t rely on them if we don’t know they exist.
Dene stories and legends offer a window of solidarity for Dene people in that they help us to be proud of our identities while providing an educational background that is crucial to understanding who we are as Dene.
At the same time, these Dene stories are where we can find comfort just in knowing that we come from a long line of great leaders.
Yet, the question still remains. In another 200 years from now what stories will we be telling? Will the teachings in the story of Edzo and Akaitcho still be relevant in the future?
Will we have new stories to tell? Will the old ones be lost? Will the leaders of today be considered great warriors of tomorrow and be talked about through history for the teachings they provide to the Dene people?
These are questions that we should be asking because if we don’t pass on the teachings our culture will suffer and our future will be a lot less rich without the important teachings meant to be passed down throughout history.
Side note: Mahsi cho to Toni Rabesca for inviting me to Behchoko to be a part of the Peace Agreement Animation Workshop.