At Dene gatherings, elders are seen sitting together, observing and speaking to each other in their own language and laughing heartily. Young people too are involved in conversations with the elders or help to bring traditional food to them or are asked to run errands for them.
Dene elders are viewed as possessing wisdom and knowledge of the meanings of traditional names, stories and legends. Through their stories, the elders tell of Dene history, the traditional way of life and of the countless names of important places and trails on the land. In this way, the elders taught and tested the children. From generation to generation the elders have always been willing to tell their personal stories to the young and passing down their store of knowledge of the land and of Dene culture.
From a life-time spent on the land, elders continue to share their experiences. They talk of the days when travel on the land was done by dog teams or by canoe. The elders remember very much about days long ago and enjoy talking about them. They tell of a time when people moved from place-to-place to follow the caribou in winter or moose in the fall. They have stories about the best lake to set up fish camps for the summer and of summer activities. Some remember a time when they saw their first non-Dene and of fur traders. But, all the stories the elders share is about the history of the Dene and their life on the land. Without their stories the life of the Dene cannot be complete.
The elders say that times have changed. Children no longer visit the elders just to listen to their stories. But the stories remain and the elders are eager to share them with anyone.
It was through the wisdom, experience and knowledge that the elders passed to the Dene leaders that the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories was born and later renamed the Dene Nation. On a more formal note, it was in June 2000 when a decision was made at a leadership meeting to establish an Elders Council.
DENE NATION ELDERS COUNCIL
The Elders Council is established to advise the Dene leadership and Dene on all issues concerning Denendeh. They will assist in addressing membership concerns arising from various internal and external activities; make recommendations regarding language, tradition and culture; and, assist in making decisions on these issues. The Elders Council will also provide advice on traditional knowledge and cultural and spiritual values. The Elders Council will operate as an advisory council and through its collective wisdom and knowledge it will reinforce the vision and mission statement of the Dene Nation.
The decisive step to create an Elders Council was taken in June 2000 at the leadership meeting in Aklavik. A motion was passed supporting an Elders Gathering, which then took place at Tulit’a in March 2002. At the 32nd Dene National Assembly at Liidlii Kue in July 2002, the establishment of the Elders Council was included in the amended Dene Nation Constitution and By-laws. The Elders had provided invaluable information at past meetings regarding traditional and cultural issues of the Dene. The Dene have always valued and depended on the advice of the elders. In order to document and use their wisdom and traditional knowledge, the Elders Council is created pursuant to Section 5, Sub-Section 11(f) of the amended Dene Nation Constitution and By-laws.
• To provide the vision, leadership and guidance to the Dene.
• To recommend and provide advice and information on traditional knowledge, cultural and spiritual values.
• To provide traditional knowledge on governance as related to self-government and government structures.
• To provide leadership and guidance in the promotion and development of a Dene justice system based on relevant Dene cultural and traditional values.
• To provide advice and information on traditional land use and resource management.
• To assist in the residential school healing process through traditional and cultural values.
• To assist with educating the youth about Dene languages, culture and traditions.
• And, as required, to evaluate the issues raised by a resolution and prepare an oral or written report to be presented at the next meeting of the National Assembly or Leadership meeting.
Structure & Membership:
•Each territory/region of Denendeh shall select one elder to the Elders Council.
• The Elders Council membership will consist of five (5) elders.
• A quorum is a majority of the members (3) present at a meeting.
•The Elders Council will select one elder to sit on the Executive of the Dene Nation.
•Members of the Elders Council will serve a term of two years in office.
•The Council will strive to achieve consensus in its decisions and recommendations. If not, it will report to the leadership to assist in resolving the issue.
As required, the Elders Council will report on its recommendations at a duly convened meeting of the leadership, or if the need arises to report at the next Dene National Assembly.
The Elders Council will meet as required or at the call of the Dene Leadership to address a specific issue that requires immediate attention.
HISTORY OF THE ELDERS COUNCIL
The first most decisive step to create the Elders Council was taken during the June 5 – 9, 2000 Dene Nation Leadership meeting held in Aklavik, Denendeh. At this time Dene Nation motion #00/01-07 was passed which stated:
Whereas the Elders guide us and provide our direction; and
Whereas the wisdom and knowledge our Elders provide is integral to our future direction; and
Whereas we value and depend upon the advise of our Elders; and
Whereas the knowledge of our Elders has not been properly documented and acknowledged;
Therefore be it resolved that the Dene Leadership direct the Dene National Office to seek the financial resources to hold an Elders Gathering.
This motion was moved by Chief Dennis Deneron from Samba Ke, seconded by Chief Charlie Furlong from Aklavik, and was unanimously carried on June 8, 2000.
The second clear step towards the Elders Council was taken during the Dene Nation organized “Elders Gathering” in Tulita, Denendeh from March 5 to the 8th, 2002.
Approximately 45 Elders from all five regions of Denendeh gathered in Tulita to discuss the future of Denendeh. The Elders “expressed strong concern about social problems in the communities linked to erosion of traditional values, culture, and language” (Elders Gathering Resolution, March 8, 2002).
Based upon the Elders Gathering, there are recommendations as to the possible structure for the Elders Council:
The Elders expressed their recommendations in a resolution passed at the Elders Gathering which states an, “Elders gathering is to held annually to guide the work of the Dene Nation, alternating between northern and southern communities” of Denendeh. Furthermore, “youth representatives from every community are to be invited to participate in all elders gatherings.
1. The Council of Elders shall consist of elders representative of First Nations (the number to be determined by the First Nations-in-Assembly) in addition to its Chairperson who shall be associated with the Secretariat and be an advisory member of the Executive Committee.
2. Elders shall elect their representatives and the Chairperson of the Council.
1. The Council of Elders may discuss any question or any matter within the scope of the present Charter or relating to the powers and functions of any organs provided for in the present Charter, and, may make recommendations to the Executive Committee, the Confederacy of Nations, the First Nations-in-Assembly or to any subsidiary organ on any such question or matter.
2. Any elder may participate in meetings of the First Nation-in-A ssembly or of the Confederacy of Nations or of any subsidiary organ. The Chairperson of the Council of Elders may participate in meetings of the Executive Committee in an advisory capacity.
3. The Council of Elders may, investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger relationships between First Nations in the Assembly of First Nations. The Council of Elders may, if all the parties to any dispute so request, make recommendations to the parties with a view to an amicable settlement of the dispute.
4. The role and function of any Elder on the Council of Elders is, in essence, non-political and advisory in nature and scope.