Ways of Knowing
Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Dene Tha
The creative world of a northern Native community is revealed in this innovative study. Once semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, the Dene Tha of northern Canada today live in government-built homes in the settlement of Chateh. Their lives are a distinct blend of old and new, in which more traditional forms of social control, healing, and praying entwine with services supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a nursing station, and a Roman Catholic church. Many older cultural beliefs and practices remain: ghosts still linger, reincarnating and sometimes stealing children’s souls; dreams and visions are powerful shapers of actions; and personal visions and experiences are considered the sources of true knowledge.
Why and how are such striking beliefs and practices still vital to the Dene Tha? Drawing on twelve years of fieldwork at Chateh, Jean-Guy Goulet delineates the interconnections between the strands of meaning and experience with which the Dene Tha constitute and creatively engage their world. Goulet’s insights into the ways of knowing among the Dene Tha were gained through directly experiencing their way of life rather than being formally taught about it.
Ways of Knowing makes a valuable contribution to literature concerning contemporary Dene ways of acquiring, assessing and transmitting knowledge, with implications for anthropologists’ methods of conducting fieldwork. This well written study contributes also to our understanding of cultural persistence against great odds and the melding of cultural traditions. It should be of interest to a wide audience.
Goulet takes a new approach to the heroic story of Catholic missions among Canada’s First Nations people ... through a combination of scientific skill, attentive listening, language-learning, patient trust-building and mutual respect Goulet was able to at least partially penetrate the Dene Tha world and to begin reconstructing reality as they know it ... Ways of Knowing provides both clarification and challenge to Christians who wish to see the Dene Tha remain within the Catholic community but who also wish to respect the traditional spirituality of this noble people. These realities open the door to the possibility of a constructive interfaith dialogue between those who follow only traditional religion, those who are Catholic Christians and those who consider themselves adherents of both. The questions Goulet raises will no doubt occupy the Canadian church for many years to come.
This perceptive and well-written study will be welcomed by subarctic specialists, students of comparative religions, and anyone with an interest in the Native peoples of Canada.
List of Maps and Tables
Preface and Acknowledgements
1 Stories from the field
2 True knowledge and true responsibility
3 Powerful beings and being powerful
4 Powers to heal and to respect
5 Visions of conflict, conflicts of vision
6 Journeys of the soul
7 Searching for a womb
8 When the drum and the rosary meet
9 Dancing your way to heaven
10 An experiential approach to knowledge
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