Friends, one of the things which is good about study and further education is that it has its way of opening up your mind to what is possible, or already there, for that matter.

Lately I have been making a lot of reference to Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear, and what he has to say about culture.

The only way to keep a culture alive is by ceremony. For that you need your native language, in our case Dene. He adds this is also necessary for us to keep our beliefs alive, by doing and practising them.

My Indigenous PhD Studies takes me to our southern Dineh relatives, the Navajo and Apache. Compared to us these people very much stress the use of their own language.

At a ceremony you might be sitting right next to a person all night, and only find out in the morning that he or she is a doctor or a lawyer.

There are some striking similarities between our Northern and southern Dene/Dineh. Because our languages are so difficult to learn and speak, the Navajo version was even used as a military code by the Code Talkers. I only know of a handful of non-Dene who’ve even attempted to learn our Northern version. Most can only manage a mahsi, now and again. Uranium was taken out of both of our nations for the Second World War and there have been a great number of continued deaths as a result.

Christmas Day of last year I was cruising around, as usual, with my adopted Navajo brother, Lawrence Curtis, and a Vietnam veteran who is also a medicine man.

The plan that day was for the elder to do a ceremony for an elderly Dineh woman, so she could continue at her ranch, working with her horses, cattle and sheep, even at her age. This is all she ever did, and told the medicine man she wanted to keep on with it.

I was very impressed with the way the man went about his ceremony and asked my brother if he could do one for me, too, for my schooling.

When he got to the tobacco, Lawrence took the time to explain certain items these traditional people use come from specific places, in this case from the four sacred mountains which mark the cardinal points of the Navajo Reservation, the largest on Great Turtle Island.

He explained all of the power in the stars and the universe are stored in certain places like this, and the language the elder uses unlocks the power in the plants and rocks in the ceremony.

Of course I don’t understand it all, but do know that my supervisor of studies at Trent University now has full confidence in my work.

Mahsi, thank you.

Antoine Mountain

Antoine Mountain is a Dene artist and writer originally from Radilih Koe/Fort Good Hope. He can be reached at

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