In this blog I write about the incredible adventure my elder brother, Roger and our elder sister, Rose are taking to our traditional forest land by Lake Athabasca in Northern Saskatchewan, we call the land Luezan Tue!
I admit what they are doing is incredibly brave and a bit risky. However, with risks comes huge rewards. I started a Go Fund Me to help him: https://gofund.me/80512cbe
I’ve been told the Dene Bush Spirits know why they are going back to the land, and they are ready for them. The land has power that heals the heart, mind, and spirit, it is told by our ancestors. Their adventure begins with this intention, the Dene bush spirits will guide and protect them along the process.
I believe in the power of the land., and in our ancestors. I have witnessed unexplained mysterious occurrences through my life. Some call this Indian medicine; we Dene call it Ikonze, the supernatural power we get from ancestors.
As I was writing this, I noticed a shift within me when I questioned my perspective. And I feel more open to consider that the Dene bush spirits are calling them home. It is in the surrendering of colonize thinking that ignites the power of our ancestors.
The seed for this Denesuline adventure was planted in 1974 when our dad returned to our traditional lands. Over forty years since. A small group is making the trek to the land, after a short trip in the summer of 2021 had reawakened their interest in the land. The family had a ceremony, plus one other, our first pipe ceremony, July, 1973, and I went there off and on until, we seen nothing but black country, by a forest fire, 1980, one of my niece spend a few years living in the black country, 25 years later I went back there, I saw a brand new country. Roger I lived in Lutsel K’e for 33 years all over the eastarm of Great Slave Lake, then, 7 years in the city, He needs to feel that forest life once again, and the only place is Luezan Tue, and continue the ceremonies and build a spiritual camp it shall there.
I love my family’s vision, and how they think it will all come together in the end without much planning or co-ordinating. Perhaps it will, but that usually means someone must take the lead and plan. As my sister Rose, a retired teacher, put it, things always work out at the end. She lives with this belief.
Roger Deranger is a 66-year-old Dene man who lived most of his life in cities, either in Fort McMurray, Edmonton or Yellowknife. He made a living as an artist, photographer, and freelance journalist.
In Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey, he says that following one’s calling is not without challenges. But I don’t think he means you should throw all caution to the wind. Indeed, if you do that you will have a different type of adventure and maybe it’s not the one you want.
Roger has strong determination, nothing or no one could stop him, not criticism, nor comments from family who cares about him. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I admire his tenacity and determination.
I gave him advice and I tried to persuade him to delay his trip until it got warmer to make it easier on both him and Rose. He ignored my advice.
However, he is not able to leave until the end of May due to a number of circumstances beyond his control. I give credit to our ancestors for the delay because they were not ready.
Early in May he started his journey. The initial person he hired to drive him after paying her $1,000 didn’t show up to pick him up, so he hired a new person. The spiritual appeal of the land is strong, and he could not resist the urge to go. He was filled with a restless energy.
On May 4 Roger posted on Facebook
“I’m starting to feel that I am a new man because the water here in Dillon is good and helped a great deal. I’m having a good visit and eating better; my stomach acid problem is slowly going away. I knew I had to take a quick dash out of the poison city, even though my ride quit on me, halfway, he had a good journey too, it helped him.
“Now, I am going to Prince Albert to pick up some building materials, and hopefully, a quad. Then, come this way to pick up my stuff that these people are keeping for me, and another visit with them before we go to our camp. We may take this one young lady to the camp, she is sick and want to get heal, we will do our best to help her.
“There is another from La Loche, that want to come with me, the people in this area of 10 Dene communities known as Westside Denesuline know me well and are happy to see me. There, is some ice on the lake at the camp. Watching it melting away is going to be beautiful with everything, animals and so forth. Once, we get out there we won’t come out until the 28 when we get our pension cheque.
We may have to bring some of our relatives from Fond Du Lac to help. A beautiful, godly summer we shall have, thank you God for this day this life and all that is good and have mercy upon all our lives”.
Again, on May 5 he posted
“I am in Prince Albert and getting sick again, but I need building supplies, and will wait for my sister to pick me up, this cheap motel has no phone, when I checked in about 4pm, and realized there is no phone, I went back to the office to ask them to phone a cab for me, it was shut down for the day, good thing I bought some food halfway from Dillion, now, I am waiting for the store to open so I can buy a phone, the one I got in Alberta is no good here, plus, there is no heat, I have to take hot showers and a bath to warm up, this water is no good, it feels slimy when I took a bath, I will feel better after I get a phone and some Chinese food, plus, I’ll see some of my relatives, I hope one of them will come with me to our forest home, I thought I was a very sick old man but I’m not, there are lots of very sick young people everywhere, lots, mostly, we all have to prepare ourselves for the new world, this one will be over at any hour or day, may God have mercy upon us all, stay strong, pray and live godly”.
Finally on May 25 he wrote:
The person that we were waiting for is now here, but before we leave, we’re going to have a ceremony that will begin at 10 am, and will last until we finish sharing the spirituality, then, we feast with a prayer song at the beginning and another one when everyone put some of their food in a bowl which we will take to our forest camp and bury it at the sacred ground on the left side of the river where we buried our brother Pat last year, an offering to the (Grandfathers) with a prayer song, this prayer meeting will be at Deans, it will be done in a circular fashion, the pipe holder will listen to all of our stories, then, he will say something and end it with a prayer song, and I am hoping that Lakota and Mike Merc will have some time to attend our prayer meeting, three drums, will sound good.
The necessity to look for an escape when life seems dismal after living two years though a pandemic is instinctual, and a matter of pure survival.
Some Indigenous people living in the cities, who live in poverty, like Roger, romanticize traditional living. And view it as an escape from the city to live off the land as a key to salvation from poverty, and addictions. It is a great vision, and it is achievable. What Roger is experiencing looks like more of a calling.
In 1974 when our father lived off the land, he had with him healthy skilled young men and women learning from seasoned Dene trappers and hunters. The young men were in the prime of their life and knew the land has limits and, they were open to learn from our dad and the others he brought with him.
This is a key difference with the group that is joining Roger is they are by and large urban people, and most aren’t in the best mental and physical health, as well as some have with limited experience of bush life and or how to detox safely. It appears to me that more consideration should be given to prepare to do harm reduction safely, as unexpected health issues may arise.
To the later point, one of the men going with them who is dealing with his addiction ended up in hospital. Another injured his leg.
They have a childlike belief that the land will magically heal them without work that goes along with healing, especially removing all unhealthy substances and a strong desire to quit.
The real story is that few in the family have expertise of living off the land. And no one in our family has actually made their living by hunting and trapping since the 1970s. They lack the expertise of my father and the men and women he had with him in 1974.
The natural elements don’t wait for anyone to acquire the skills to survive. Both Roger and Rose know that Mother Nature has her own rules that need to be obeyed and respected. Just being Indigenous does not automatically equip you for survival in the on our traditional land. Roger’s trip is a spiritual quest, and they know that they must do it proceed respectfully.
Rose spent one night in her car on the way to meet Roger so far. That is determination! She is a survivor; of that I have no doubt.
They have a strong will and great intention. They will succeed.
The questions become: What is Roger’s driving force? Is he fulfilling a spiritual quest? Is this a beginning for future generations who feel lost and need to reconnect with their traditional source in a calm healing environment?