Diavik on the land
Elders share traditional knowledge

Kirsten Larsen
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 12/99) - Skinning muskrat and setting fish nets aren't the usual job requirements of Diavik's senior management, but for four days last month, that's exactly what they did.

Seven of Diavik's senior management staff watched and learned about life on the Barren Lands with the guidance of Dogrib elders and their families. They lived with Dogrib families for four days during a wilderness program offered through the Sah Naji Kwe Wilderness Spa & Meeting Centre in Rae-Edzo.

Owner Joyce Rabesca said the program is set up for corporations with employees who frequently deal with the Dogrib. Diavik is the first mining-based company that has taken part in the program.

"Diavik has been interested in this from the start," said Rabesca. "They have really been taking steps to understand the people they will be involved with."

Rabesca explained that the program gives Northern newcomers a better sense of aboriginal traditional life.

"Most people who are newcomers do not know about how we live," Rabesca said. "We take 12 participants and four Dogrib families and a head man out on the land. Three participants are adopted into each Dogrib family so they can really experience exactly what life and traditional family life is like."

Debbie Roth, human resources specialist with Diavik, took part in the program.

"We were in tents in the middle of nowhere like they would have done 20 to 30 years ago and probably the elders still do," said Roth.

"The mom I was with was 70 and the dad 75. They didn't speak any English and of course, we didn't speak any Dogrib. You bring nothing with you so you were very dependent on them."

While the men were given demonstrations in setting fishing nets, tracking, hunting and trapping, "The women would always be doing something back at the tents, skinning and drying meat...cooking," said Roth. "If you happened to be in the tent they wouldn't stop what they were doing and every time you sat down someone would hand you a plate of something.

Roth learned that parts of the fish are also used in traditional medicine.

"We were shown traditional knowledge and how they used many things from the forest -- fungus and sap -- for medicinal purposes...and even parts of the fish -- the gall bladder -- for pain relief," said Roth. "There was all kinds of different stuff shown to us used for medicine -- you could hardly believe it."

Even though Roth has lived in the North for 25 years, she said she came away with a more developed perspective and knowledge of the Dogrib.

"I learned a million things -- so much more," said Roth. "What really came home for me is how important the caribou are. They used it all day out there, sewing with the hide, drying meat. It certainly is still a paramount part of their diet."