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Using the past to change the future

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, March 26, 2009

LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON - George Orwell said "Who controls the past controls the future." That philosophy of self-determination was explored in Fort Simpson during a two-day workshop in the community.

Joe Tambour of the K'atlodeeche First Nation led nine people on a tour of Dene history during a cultural sensitivity workshop from March 18 to 19. The workshop is part of a suicide prevention strategy that includes promoting cultural awareness amongst caregivers, said Bob Vibert, the co-ordinator for Brighter Futures, the program that hosted the workshop.

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Joe Tambour stands beside one of the charts he drew to illustrate a period of history in the Deh Cho during a cultural sensitivity workshop he facilitated in Fort Simpson. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

"It roots people in the culture and makes them take a different look at it," Vibert said.

During the workshop, Tambour shared information about Dene culture and tradition and how it was lost as a result of residential schools, said Vibert.

How culture affects perceptions on contemporary pursuits was also a focus of the workshop.

Tambour illustrated how understanding the past and regaining aboriginal culture can help determine how to find the delicate balance between modern-day pressure and cultural preservation.

Tambour started with one piece of chart paper, drawing a diagram to illustrate the early Dene clan system and that society. Eight pieces of paper later Tambour reached the future where he concluded that any meaningful changes have to start within individual people.

"He explained why we are the way we are today," said Barb Moreau-Betsaka, one of the participants.

Moreau-Betsaka said she attended the workshop to learn more about her culture, a subject she's always been interested in, adding it is difficult to find because of the mostly-oral history.

"There's not a lot of written material," she said.

"A lot of our elders take it with them when they pass on."

The workshop looked at how to integrate the past into the future to create strong Dene people, said Moreau-Betsaka. The underlying message was that change has to come from within.

"Our people need to start healing themselves one person at a time and it's a choice, no one can make it for them," she said.

Coming out of the workshop Moreau-Betsaka said she gained more knowledge, more respect and a deeper understanding of how the Dene were scattered because of the influence of the Europeans.

"I was really fascinated how powerful we were and how powerful we will be again," said Moreau-Betsaka.

Tambour declined to comment on the workshop, citing a cultural distaste for speaking boastfully about one's endeavours.