We Remember the Coming of the White Man

Special Edition in Recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the Signing of Treaty 11

By (author) Raymond Yakeleya, Elizabeth Yakeleya, Simon Sarah, Leanne Goose, Sarah Simon & George Blondin
Edited by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by Antoine Mountain
Foreword by Walter Blondin
Categories: History
Series: Spirit of Nature
Publisher: Durvile Publications
Paperback : 9781988824635, 272 pages, March 2021


Preface, Raymond Yakeleya

The first edition of this book, We Remember the Coming of the White Man sold out very quickly, and speaking on behalf of the publisher and editors, this has made us all very happy. This demonstrates a strong and growing interest in the history of the Dene People.
Most of the copies from the first edition were sold directly to people in the North and, as well, through independent bookstores, notably The Yellowknife Book Cellar. The book received acclaim in many newspapers and media including CBC, The Rocky Mountain Outlook, Cabin Radio, and BC Bookworld. We were also happy to learn that many libraries throughout Canada and the USA purchased the book for their local readers. This cannot help but expand knowledge about the Dene People and, notably, Treaty 11’s dubious distinction in Canada’s history.
With this Special Edition, we are now in a position to expand our opinions about the signing of Treaty 11, which took place one hundred years ago in 1921. At the beginning of this book Walter Blondin and Sarah Stewart bring clarity to the history and fallout of the Treaty, but one thing I wish to emphasize is that it is important to know that Treaty 11 was initiated because of the oil contained in Norman Wells on the traditional lands of my family, the Blondin family.
When our Dene People signed Treaty 11 in 1921, there had been no negotiation because the Treaty translators were not able to translate the actual language used in the document. There was not enough time either for our People to consult with each other. Our Dene People were given a list that had been written up by bureaucrats declaring the demands of Treaty 11. They dictated to the Dene, “This is what we want. You have to agree, and sign it.” We did not know what these papers contained.
In the entire history of our People, we had never come across anything like that before. The government parties would stop in towns and villages along the Mackenzie River for one or two days and demand a signature. How can they demand something from People who cannot understand? That’s a crime. I have often said that Treaty 11 does not meet the threshold of being legal. In other words, when we make a treaty, it should be that you understand, I understand, and we agree. In this case, the Dene did not understand.
It was only through the urging of the Roman Catholic bishop in my hometown of Fort Norman, (Tulita), that the People signed the Treaty because they had faith in the Roman Catholic Church. I remember my grandfather saying that Bishop Breynat, who was the bishop of the Mackenzie diocese, worked for God and did not lie, steal, or cheat. Belief was that he had to be a completely honest man and so we put our faith in him. It turned out not to be that way. It was all about money and we feel the Catholic Church was in the pocketbook of the government and the Dene were their last concern.
I feel we should challenge Treaty 11 because there are many parts of it that are despicable. We still do not understand Treaty 11 and I think we have to look at it again from the Dene perspective. We are bound by that Treaty and we gave our word. We need to go through the Treaty point by point by point and see where we are at a hundred years later.
That all said there was some benefit of education that came with the Treaty and some health care but overall I have very little to praise. It was obvious the white man was not going to learn Dene so our People were trained in the English language. There was medical care, but there were also many diseases introduced like tuberculosis, measles, polio, and of course, the Spanish flu. Our People had no antibodies to fight these new sicknesses. When I made the film We Remember with Bill Stewart, which is included with this book, we found out that the Department of Indian Affairs cut back funding for medicines for Indigenous People. So rather than be a good partner and provide medical care, people died. The government was meant to be a partner who had concern for us but they didn’t really give a damn for us. We could not trust them.
The Department of Indian Affairs was also responsible for a lot of the other suffering our People went through, like the Residential School system and the Sixties Scoop. Their idea was to keep us just smart enough to be dumb. Thoughts were, “Don’t train the Indian kids much more than grade 3 because they are going to compete with the white man immigrant settlers coming in for jobs.”

The Monument Project
We are currently gathering strength with other First Nations groups to create an Indigenous monument project for Parliament Hill in Ottawa. As a bit of background, I was part of a delegation from Alberta a number of years ago, when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister. Native artists were called to Ottawa to help the Government develop policy on how to deliver funding. We came to Ottawa from all across the country — Nunavut, the west coast, prairies, mountains, and the east coast — and we spent a week in meetings and conferences, making many new friends.
On my last day in Ottawa, I went to Parliament Hill and walked around because I knew there were statues that I wanted to see. I was shocked to see there was no representation from First Nations People, even though this is our land. There was nothing and nobody.
As I continued walking around, I saw all these white people being glorified through statues and monuments on Parliament grounds. I imagine some of them were really fine people but the ones I would kick off are the Famous Five Women and Sir John A. MacDonald.
The Famous Five Women from Alberta were Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Emily Murphy. In their time in the 1920s, they knew it was wrong to deny women rights on the grounds that they were women, but they didn’t fight for Native women, Black women, or Chinese women. I admired that they fought to have women recognized as people but they only fought for white women. The way I took it is that as white women, they felt they were a little better than other women, which really incensed me because they were showing off their arrogance and prejudice. The Famous Five also supported laws that led to the forced sterilization of women, a great number of whom were Native women.
Looking at early Canadian leaders like John A. MacDonald and Duncan Campbell Scott, it is clear to see they were racist toward the First Nations. They did not deal honestly or openly with our People and that was their first mistake — they were pulling a fast one and stealing from us. One Dene Elder told me, “We’ve never been to school, but we know how to count our money.” He was basically saying that even though we don’t speak the same language, we know what’s going on. We know a lie when we see it.
I started thinking about how we need a statue that would recognize all Native People of Canada ­— the First Nations, the Inuit, the Métis — because this is our land and we are still not represented. It was during this time I started writing the proposal that became the “Beothuk: First People Monument of Canada,” a monument that recognizes all the hard times our People have gone through as they were being cheated and their lands were being stolen.
This proposed monument would be dedicated to the memory of the Beothuk People, who were a First Nations People from Newfoundland. They had bounties put on their heads and were hunted by British colonizers, becoming extinct in 1829. It is hard to believe, but Beothuk People are no more. If this monument becomes a reality on Parliament Hill, as they go in to make laws, Members of Parliament could look at this First Nations monument and think, “We are here to make laws to help people, not to hurt people.” I think it is really important for the lawmakers of the future to look at all Canadians in that way. That’s what we hope for and that’s what we pray for — that after 150 years, we can reset things with our country.
Crimes were committed against our People but we are still here. I want to do something that will honour our People and if we work with our artists and designers, we can make something of great significance. I want to do something so our Native People can go to a monument which will be dedicated to them to create a place they can go as a sanctuary and as a place to pray. Maybe it could even have a sacred fire. This is something that is needed as a way of reconciliation, as a way of healing, and a way of crying and finding forgiveness in our country. There are still atrocities happening to Native People to this day and we need to work on that.

New material in this Special Edition of We Remember also includes “Part III, Stories by the People” ­— works by the late George Blondin, Leanne Goose, Antoine Mountain, and myself. These stories bring to life the legends and values of Indigenous People of the North that have been seared in our minds, hearts, and souls since the Beginning of Time. The wisdom of these stories was always there, and so it will always be there. We didn’t have books, we carry our learnings and knowledge with us.
We have to pass these stories on to the new generation. With books like We Remember, we are bringing the Dene knowledge forward, and I encourage other Native People from across the country, from across the world for that matter, to save what you can. We are losing language and culture very quickly worldwide. I am proud that our books and my film work goes into schools to teach new generations. All of our Elders’ words move into the future and I am proud of saving what we can.
White government colonists from the time of Treaty 11 thought that because we couldn’t speak English or write things down in our language that we knew nothing. They didn’t realize that we had our own languages and that we knew our own history. We knew about God, we knew about prehistoric animals from the last ice age. We knew how to survive in cold, cold weather. They thought they could cheat us but we’re smart. We are proud of our language and our culture and we want to keep it. We have nothing to be ashamed or shy about. We like the way our good Creator made us and we thank Him every day.
— Raymond Yakeleya, 2021


Table of contents

Preface, Raymond Yakeleya

Part I, Reflections
Foreword, Walter Blondin
Treaty 11, Sarah Stewart
We Remember Raymond Yakeleya
The Dene Nation, Sarah Stewart
The Métis Experience, Colette Poitras

Part II, The Elders Remember
The Elders
1. Early Days
2. Fur, Guns, First Contact
3. Family Life
4. Boat Time
5. Missionaries
6. Oil Discovery
7. Treaty 11
8. The Sickness
9. Uranium
10. First Machines
11. The Mad Trapper
12. Canol Road
13. Mackenzie Valley Pipeline
14. Time of Change
Part III Stories From the People
Tutichak, Leanne Goose
How the Muskrat Created the World
Antoine Mountain with Maurice Mendo
The Slingshot and the Songbird
Raymond Yakeleya
In the Land of the Na?àcho, George Blondin
The Drums, George Blondin
When the White People Came, George Blondin

The Spirit of Nature Series


SPECIAL 2021 EDITION, recognizing the 100th Anniversary of Signing of Treaty 11. We Remember the Coming of the White Man chronicles the history of the Sahtú (Mountain Dene) and Gwinch’in People in the extraordinary time of the early 20th century. This 2021 Special Edition of the book recognizes the anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11, which is greatly controversial due to the emotional and economic fallout for the People. As well as poignant essays about Treaty 11, the book includes transcripts of oral histories by Elders. They talk about the early days of fur trading and guns; the flu pandemic; and dismay about the way oil and uranium discoveries and pipelines were handled on their land. A new section of stories is included as well — stories by Leanne Goose, Antoine Mountain, Raymond Yakeleya, and George Blondin. The remastered film “We Remember,” is included with the book, on DVD and as digital Vimeo links. https://durvile.com/books/We_Remember_Special.html


“Our traditional knowledge is recorded in the stories of our ancestors since time immemorial. In this book, you will read our oral history and traditions that are our Dene parables, used to guide ourselves and our People.”

—Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya

We Remember The Coming of the White Man should be crucial reading for anyone in Canada because it speaks to the resiliency of the Dene and Metis people of Denendeh. It's also a testament to the power of memory carried in the oral tradition. To think what our ancestors have seen in one lifetime: relations with the Hudon's Bay Company,TB, Influenza, Treaty signings, the first musket loader, Residential Schools, the first radio, the first TV, a man on the moon. It is staggering. I hear so much power in these pages. I also feel it. I am grateful to everyone involved in this project because it is a life's work honouring the witnessing of so much change in so little time. Mahsi cho, everyone. I am grateful. We will have and celebrate this book and the DVD that accompanies it forever.


 — Richard Van Camp


With rare mastery of his filmmaking craft, Dene storyteller Raymond Yakeleya carries on in this book, bringing a former and still ever-present world of wolf, bear, and raven, ik’o, medicine, magic, and mystery to life, to modern meaning. ­

—Antoine Mountain, author of From Bear Rock Mountain: The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor