Memories of seasonal hunting through eyes of an Elder

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DOIG RIVER, B.C. — According to a Doig River First Nation Elder, many Dane-zaa traditions, such as seasonal hunting, have been lost or extinct due to modern technology.

Former chief and councillor of Doig River Gerry Attachie said Dane-zaa, also known as Dunne-za, were primarily hunters, travelling seasonally to hunt, gather and socialize with their groups. Through time, seasonal hunting has lost its real meaning, which Elders, through their lived experience, would draw upon to revive the lost traditions.

To survive, the Dane-zaa people maintained a seasonal cycle based on the availability of different resources.

In his article Changes of Mind: Dunne-za Resistance to Empire, University of British Columbia-based anthropologist Robin Ridington described the seasonal hunting cycle of the Dane-zaa. In the fall, deer and moose were the primary targets. In the winter, the focus remained on hunting foxes and lynxes. Trapping animals for their fur, which would be used for trade in the spring, was also a focus during the winter.

Seasonal hunting was a means of survival but in harmony with nature. For Attachie, respecting nature was the essential learning experience from their seasonal hunting adventures.

Hunting practices gave them physical strength to cope with different challenges, but it also was a proper mental exercise.

“Hunting made them fearless and strong,” said Attachie.

For the Dane-zaa people, rivers, wildlife, and habitat are a part of their social and cultural economy.

Attachie believes economic prosperity was not considered an ultimate achievement during seasonal hunting.

“Modern technology changed their way of living,”

Oil and gas development in the Peace River region and the government’s new reforms specifically focusing on decreasing land usage were decisive factors in changing their seasonal hunting practices.

For Attachie, the loss of their traditional land was a tragic event. Seasonal hunting was crucial to their natural landscape.

“Hunting was not only a means for survival but to build their connection with nature,” said Attachie.

The Dane-zaa culture is rooted in their ancestors’ stories, where their history and ideas are passed on from Elders.

Attachie said Elders like himself share knowledge to help combat the threat to their traditional practices such as hunting, language, and culture. Their traditional methods are connected to their identity.

“This is our land, and our stories will reshape our future.”

For the Dane-zaa community, art workshops and guidance from their Elders give them the power to create their versions of the stories that had been lost or redefined. Attachie said his ultimate goal is to create a social and cultural space where each generation brings experiences to create a future of hope and passion.

Photo courtesy of Doig River First Nation

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