'It's almost biblical': First Nation leaders in Calgary to organize international Dene reunification event

Organizers want to bring Indigenous people with Dene Athabaskan heritage from around the world together in one place.

People of Dene heritage live everywhere from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico, and even Siberia

Tsuut'ina Nation member Bruce Starlight co-organized a Dene Migration Symposium back in 2017 and currently helping out with a future Dene gathering. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

First Nation Dene chiefs and leaders gathered at the Grey Eagle Casino on the Tsuut'ina Nation west of Calgary this week to discuss the future of the Dene people and plan an event to bring them all together.

"What we're trying to do is carry on the tradition," said Allan Adam from the Denesuliné First Nation in northern Saskatchewan, one of the event coordinators.

Organizers want to bring Indigenous people with Dene Athabaskan heritage from around the world together in one place.

"We're trying to get all the Dene people together to form a Dene alliance. Today is part of that meeting," said Bruce Starlight, a Tsuut'ina language commissioner.

The Dene reunification meeting is also about planning an international Dene gathering conference to be hosted in Canada.

Allan Adam says gatherings are crucial for the survival of the Dene people. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

"We're the largest group in North America and there are 750,000 self-identified Dene," said Starlight.

The language commissioner says the event is something he has dreamt about.

"A Dene office in North America [...] is the big picture," he said.

The planning and meetings have been in the works for years.

Garry Oker says the gatherings have been in the planning process for years. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

"From ice age to digital age, we're bringing people in to gather and have a big conference on all our history," said British Columbia's Doig River First Nation Coun. Garry Oker.

The conference will bring together Dene people to share history, language and culture.

"Today is really talking about who is involved and how we going to move this thing forward and looking for resources to begin the discussion on what it really is to be Dene," said Oker.

The group is also working on putting stories together from Dene people.

Raymond Yakeleya is the brother of National Dene Chief of the Northwest Territories, Norman Yakeleya, who also attended the meeting this week. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Raymond Yakeleya is from a First Nation in the Northwest Territories in Canada and is one of the organizers for Dene gatherings.

"The gathering of the Dene is the most important thing we've got going, especially in North America. We are the biggest First Nation Tribe coming back together again and it's almost biblical," he said.

"Today is an important day because we're talking about bringing all together our leaders and people. Reclaiming who we are as Dene people, looking in the future and keeping language a priority."

According to traditional teachings, stories and prophecy, it has been foretold that the Dene will gather again,says Yakeleya.

Organizers plan to bring together Dene people from as far away as Siberia and Mexico as well as the United States and Canada to form an alliance and keep their culture alive.