A Look At The Traditions Of The Dene First Nations

By JUDI ZIENCHUK – Epicure & Culture Magazine 

“While most people envision life in northern Canada as being cold, dark and dull, for people of the Dene group of North American First Nations this is far from the truth. “Dene,” which is the Athabaskan term simply for “people,” includes the First Nation bands of Chipewyan, Tlicho, Slavey, Sathu and Yellowknives, whom the capital of the Canadian Northwest Territories are named after. First Nations refers to the various Aboriginal cultures in Canada.

The Dene have lived in arctic and boreal regions across the north for over 4,000 years. During this time, they’ve turned a frozen desert into a cultural paradise — even during the dead of winter — with their traditional music, games and food.”

I’ve chosen one topic from Judi Zienchuk’s article to allow some insight into the culture. For further information look at the following Canadian site. 

“…The Snow Snake was originally designed to improve the accuracy of Dene hunters in search of caribou during the winter. Hundreds of years ago, when hunting tools didn’t possess the same levels of accuracy and exactness they do today, it was impossible for Dene hunters to get within range of a caribou — even with a bow and arrow — before it would flee. As a result, the only time caribou could be hunted was when they fell asleep on an icy lake. In this scenario, the hunter could slide a javelin along the ice for a long distance and pierce the caribou’s side, which would slow the animal down, allowing the hunter to get close enough to the animal to make a kill.

To practice developing this exact skill, the Snow Snake game was developed. This game consists of sliding a javelin — much like one used in the Olympic javelin toss — as far as possible down an icy, narrow track. The world record is currently held at close to 500 feet and requires both strength and accuracy.

While sliding a stick in a straight line seems like a simple task, even on a flat, icy surface, during my experience I found javelins are prone to twisting and turning at any available opportunity. For beginners like myself, the game is one of high concentration. Getting the javelin to stay on course for even 10 feet proved to be quite the challenge…”

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