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Elders Voices
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Thla na da

The language of the Dene people has roots that trace back thousands of years. The Dene people share their origins with the Apachean and Navajo Peoples of southwestern America. These groups, which once lived as one, separated over time. The Navajo and Apachean peoples settled in what is now known as New Mexico, while the Dene settled in the Northwest Territories as well as the northern part of today’s Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Dene live in small pockets which are spread across a large geographical range. As a result, there are many variations of the Dene language, which is part of the Athapaskan language family.

Traditionally, the Dene people lived in structured units called bands. Leadership within the bands was mostly egalitarian but flexible, so that community members could apply their unique skills for the betterment of the band. For example, a strong hunter could lead the band during hunting trips, though someone else would assume the leadership role at other times. Movement of people between bands was flexible and usually occurred as a result of marriage.

Though smaller in number than some of Alberta’s other Aboriginal communities, the Dene people are vibrant in spirit. Fishing in summer, and year-round hunting and trapping are common within the Dene communities, and the use of dog teams for these activities is an important aspect of Dene culture.

Today, the Dene of northern Canada and the Apache and Navajo people of New Mexico and Arizona can still communicate with each other despite the thousands of kilometres and different lifestyles that separate their communities; a testament to their shared ancestry. The Elders from both groups recount stories of the separation, linking the generations of today to a rich and beautiful past.

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