Paddler gets taste of Dene history
- Canoeist encounters traditions of local residents en route
to Hudson's Bay
By Randy Johns
for the Star Phoenix
Twelve days after reaching Wollaston Post, Bill Layman has started
the second stage of his 1600 km. canoe trip from La Ronge to Arviat
on Hudson's Bay. He has been joined by his wife, Lynda Holland,
for this leg of the journey.
Tom on the Shores of Swan Lake.
Tom O'Rourke, Layman partner for the first part of the journey
has now returned home to Pittsburgh, Penn.
"Tom will be back," Layman wrote. "That's a certainty.
It's just the question of when."
Tom has been bitten by the bug that takes outdoor adventurers from
the comforts of modern existence to the rigors of the northern wilderness.
The layover at Wollaston was to enable Layman to carry out environmental
sampling for the Athabasca Working Group, a partnership of the northern
communities and the mining companies. The sampling is part of an
ongoing effort to watch for any negative impact on the environment
from the mining in the area.
Layman carries out the work with local residents and gets to know
a lot of their history while working. This time he was told of the
old Dene way of hunting Muskox.
"When Dene hunted muskox they would herd them into a loose
circle by moving toward them as they half hid behind small cut spruce
trees", Layman wrote. "When they were circled, the muskox
that wanted to leave would walk out of the circle and they would
let them go. The one that remained would be killed.
The inference in the story was two-fold. The muskox would decide
which animal would go and which one would stay, and the Dene would
never just 'hunt' a muskox.
"They had to do it in a certain way. Doing it any other way
would be to risk the wrath of the animistic gods they held sacred.
I read somewhere that when the caribou herds failed the Dene, they
depended on the muskox. Since muskox had a rather regular area in
which they could be found, the Dene could count on finding them
when they were starving. Little wonder they held chloe-telle-juray
And now Layman and Holland are heading out to "the land of
little sticks" as the Dene call the barren grounds.
This week they will travel to the Northeastern end of Wollaston
Lake and enter the Cochrane River. The Cochrane system will lead
them to the Thiewiaza River and eventually to Hudson's Bay. This
is a traditional summer territory of the Dene, who are only 40 years
removed from their traditional nomadic lifestyle.
Layman and Holland were sent off from Wollaston in traditional
Dene fashion. Bill says in a radio interview, "when you take
off on a trip, they take a piece of green wood off of a tree and
throw it in the lake for good luck."
Layman is convinced there is something to the tradition.
"Something's working for us because yesterday the wind was
howling and today it's pretty well calm so she looks like a really
good day to start."