In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11, the next selection for the 2021 RISE Book Club season is We Remember the Coming of the White Man (Special Edition 2021). The book chronicles the history of the Dene People in the early 20th century.
Over the next several weeks, we will be posting sections of reading and questions developed by the amazing RISE book club volunteers to consider here and below. You can follow along with us or read ahead. You are also invited to join us virtually on June 9 at 7:00pm for a group discussion led by RISE volunteers. This will also be a chance to hear from editor and storyteller Raymond Yakeleya.
Please Note: While RISE Book Club is reading the 2021 Special Edition you will be able to meaningfully participate in discussions with the previous edition of this book.
Digital copies of the book are available through EPL and Cantook Station. If you have a library card and would like to borrow a physical copy, please email Andrew.Halberstadt@EPL.CA and arrange for pickup at a location of your convenience.
This online event is free to attend; however, advance registration is required. To register, please submit your name and email address. The link and other instructions needed to join the event will be emailed to you by 5 p.m. on the day of the event.
For mental health support, RISE recommends Hope for Wellness.
More About The Book
We Remember the Coming of the White Man includes transcripts of oral histories by Elders and revolves around their recollections of the early days of fur trading and guns; missionaries and the flu epidemic; dismay about the way oil and uranium discoveries were handled on their land; and the emotional and economic fallout of the signing of Treaty 11. The book is rich with photographs, and Elders’ stories are in English and Dene Gwich’in. Bundled with the book is a remastered copy of Raymond Yakeleya’s stunning 1976 film We Remember, complete with director’s commentary.
Please note the page numbers below correspond to the Special Edition.
Week 1 (April 25 to May 1)
- Have you heard of the numbered treaties before? As mentioned in the book, oral agreements often differed from what appeared in printed documents. Further reading of the Government of Canada’s account follows:
- Make an effort to remember the names, faces and biographies of each of the Elders (pp. 47-49) with one (or more) of the following tricks:
- Write down the information. Instead of flipping back to the biographies at the beginning of the book, you will have a physical aid that you can refer to.
- Study the Elders faces.
- Make connections between the Elders being introduced and someone else you might now.
- Start a list of persons, places, items, or words you looked up as you read, We Remember the Coming of the White Man.
- In many ways, this book contributes to revisionist history, providing a counter narrative to better understand the recent 100 year history of the North and impacts of colonization on the Dene. How have you seen Canadian history being changed or rewritten? How does this week’s reading compare or contrast with the examples you can think of?
Week 2 (May 2 to 8)
- The Dene Laws are an important part of the Dene history and traditions and continue to guide the Dene people today.
- What is a Dene teaching, law or principle discussed in the book that has resonated with you so far? Some examples of “Share what you have” include:
- “Denying people food goes against all Dene Laws. No food, no life” (p. 6);
- “the Dene laws promoted sharing and this was taken very seriously as failure to follow these laws could lead to war and bloody conflict) (p. 3); and
- “In a tribe of about forty or sixty people we had only one gun and everybody depended on that gun” (p. 77).
- Now, think about the white man's actions in Chapter 2 (Fur, Guns, First Contact) and how they conflicted with these teachings, laws or principles.
- “And all the time Hudson Bay wrote down what they were giving away and they made them pay later on. I noticed that. They didn’t give anything away” (p. 67)
- We learn this week about the first encounters with money in the north, including the Dene people’s first impressions of dollars (“buttons,” p. 85) and how they learned what it was worth (pp. 83-87). Think back to when you first learned about the value of money. Were you cheated like Francis (p. 85)? How did those initial experiences influence how you behave today?
Week 3 (May 9 to 15)
- The roles of each Dene community member and how they were to interact with one another were clearly defined in the “Family Life” chapter. If you did not do your part there were consequences. “As soon as the girls could work, their mothers taught them how to tan skins, sew and cook… If she didn’t want to learn she would not get a husband.” (p. 95). There were also rewards.
- Did any of the gender roles or societal norms surprise you? Some examples include:
- “Due to respect for one another, brothers and sisters could not talk together. They had to go through an interpreter. It was completely taboo.” (p. 105)
- “We sew for our husbands and not for ourselves. The women didn’t dare put fancy moccasins on.” (p. 95)
- “If there was a very good young man, he was entitled to have as many wives as he wanted. It was the same with women.”(p. 109).
- First Nations Elders are culturally regarded as teachers, mediators, advisors, medicine people, stewards of the lands and the keepers of the culture and way of life. You can learn more about the role of First Nations Elders here. Identify three other cultures from around the world that celebrate aging and respect of Elders.
- Today, in the south, we are accustomed to visiting grocery stores with exotic produce and receiving mail on a daily basis. In the book, the arrival of the boat is a cause for celebration (p.113-121). How does this excitement compare or contrast to the arrival of the white man in the north that was discussed earlier in the book?
Week 4 (May 16 to 22)
- How have you been engaging with the oral histories and stories by Dene Elders and storytellers so far? Have you watched the film or translated any of the text using the Gwich’in Dene spelling system devised by Richard Mueller in the 1960s (p. 50 of the Special Edition)? Do you study each photograph?
- 2020 marked 100 years of oil production at Norman Wells. Compare the narrative in the Oil Discovery chapter and/or film (27:12 to 32:42) to Imperial Oil’s account.
- Sarah Simon gives an account of her residential school confinement saying, “In the old days when we went to school we never saw our parents for seven or nine years. We never went home and no one from home visited us” (p. 145). Mary Wilson recounts that five years passed before she could go home. By then, she had forgotten what her mother looked like and “couldn’t communicate with my parents and they couldn’t communicate with me” (p. 155). What do you imagine might be some implications for the time and distance that residential schools placed between children and parents?
- On page 133, we read that a marriage was arranged by the Anglican minister against the wishes of the girl involved. How do you react to this? How might this relate to present day violences against Indigenous women and girls?
Week 5 (May 23 to 29)
- Consider the elements and terms under discussion during treaty negotiations, such as trapping, hunting, fishing and land (p. 179), money and witnesses (p. 181), paper and writing (p. 179; 185-187). What value did these hold for each party to the treaty?
- Johnny Kaye’s poem reads, “I don’t want my land to go. I don’t want it taken away. Our people live on the land. We work hard” (pg. 191). How does this connect to your own or your family history where there has been a love for and attachment to land as a source of home, safety, provision, inheritance and belonging?
- On page 181, Joe Blondin states that today there is an annual treaty payment made of $5.00 to each person and that it has not changed in 100 years. Did you know this before - that the Canadian government has not adjusted this payment for inflation since 1921?
- Recent news has reported regular instances of racism toward Indigenous patients and cases of mistreatment in the Canadian health care system (see example 1, example 2, example 3). How might this relate to how “in 1937 the Government cut off funds for all hospital treatment of Indians suffering from tuberculosis or any other chronic conditions” (p. 192) and how “the doctor told the policeman how to treat the people and wrote it down for him” (p. 197)?
Week 6 (May 30 to June 5)
- On page 204, Joe Blondin states that, “Those Old Timers, they don’t lie.” What is your reaction to this? Who would you associate the principle of honesty with in history or in contemporary times?
- In this week’s chapter on uranium, Isadore Yukon writes that, “Later, we found out that the uranium was made into an atomic bomb which was dropped on the Japanese.” How might Indigenous rights be fashioned to centralize the principle of consent (for access to and use of resources from Indigenous lands)? What could be the impacts of approaching land and resource access and use in this way?
- On page 219, Isadore Yukon references the disorientation and cultural clash that was experienced by his wife when they visited Ottawa in 1974 (i.e. automatic door openers, escalators, and women walking alongside men). Can you think of a time in your life when you experienced something similar?
- Raymond Yakeleya, p. 235 Special Edition:
Our backs are turned to the corners.
This is our last stand.
I ask each and every one of you in this room.
What would you do if you were in our shoes?
How would you feel
If you had these conditions on you?
I ask you one more time, let us negotiate.
There’s still time, but don’t force us.
Because this time we have nothing left to lose.
When I ask for
The lives of my people,
Am I asking too much?
We admit we are fearful,
But to be fearful is not to be without courage.
We admit that we are distrustful,
But we are not without wisdom in seeking harmony.
Having read through the book to this point, you are encouraged to reflect on the themes and learnings to grapple with the questions asked by Raymond Yakeleya in this excerpt.
Week 7 (June 6 to 12)
- We Remember was a ground-breaking and award winning film that was released in 1978. Were you familiar with this film prior to reading We Remember the Coming of the White Man?
- Using the Gwich’in Dene spelling system devised by Richard Mueller in the 1960’s (p. 50 of the Special Edition) translate a portion of the book.
- Revisit the list of persons, places, items, or words you looked up as you read We Remember the Coming of the White Man and reflect on what new information you've gathered. For example, is there a pattern of categories on your list? Were you surprised by any of them? What was your favourite piece of information?
- The Elders biographies were organized in an intentional way (matriarchs first). Does this surprise you? Why or why not?
- What do you want your family to know about the life that you live? What are the core values and priorities of