Our Dance Stories

By Bren Kolson

Stories are our culture. They express beliefs and values that teach people how to live a good life in harmony with the Earth and all its creatures. Dene stories keep the culture alive. The Elders teach each generation to know the culture, to live good lives and to understand the Great Creator’s daily gifts.

The Dene say children can survive with honour only if Elders teach them to respect and take part in their culture. Thus, the Dene will exist forever on Mother Earth. The storytellers have never needed writing because they have always memorized every word and gesture. They have learned the stories as the ancestors first told them, accurately and to the tiniest detail. These stories are more than mere memories; they are the Dene soul that perpetuates its history, culture and values.

The many, many stories show the children how to hunt animals, to shape spears from rock, to scrape animal hides to make shelter and clothing, and to prepare food in birch bark baskets over hot stone and coals. They teach children and young adults how to make drums from tree bark and animal hides and how to have fun drumming and dancing in the ceremonies.

The Dene have not forgotten how their important songs have come to them. The ceremonies, songs and drums that unite the people as they dance are a power that has come directly from the Great Spirit.  To this day, the Dene get this power the old way. One by one, they go deep into the bush or sit on a remote hillside or mountain alone for days or weeks and pray for a song from the Great Creator. There, each one conducts a special ceremony and sings while awaiting the gift that will become his or her own song.

Story of the Little People

Besha Blondin remembers sitting on a mountain many days waiting for her song. Finally, while she was praying, two little people visited her. They told her she was about to hear “her song,” and that she would play this drum song for years to come.

“They never touched the ground,” the Elder says. “They hovered on top of the ground. They looked at me and they said: ‘We’re going to sing this song to you only once. After we sing this song you’re going to have to sing it – take the whole year to practise and then you’re going to sing it to the public after a year’.”

She listened to the song the little people sang to her.  When they left the Elder gave thanks to the little people. She practised the song for one year before she sang it to the public.

“This is how we do it to be able to get our songs, to be able to dance,” she says. “I have fifty-four songs that I know.”

For many years the Great Creator has given the Dene songs and dances. These gifts show how to live on the land and how to understand and respect Mother Earth and each human being. It was wonderful when people danced to the drum songs, says Besha: “I remember how people used to laugh while they were dancing because there was so much joy. It brings not only joy, but we know when the Drum Dances are happening. We know when we hear the heartbeat – when the drum is beating – that it is the heart-beat of the Creator.”

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance