Dogrib - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Aboriginal religious beliefs, which have endured in attenuated form into present times, centered on the individual attaining a relationship with an animal or animal-like spirit, such as Raven, Spider, Thunderbird, through which he gained ink'on, "power." Summoning the enabling spirit with drum and song, the adept might control the weather or the hunt, cure illness, or divine the whereabouts of travelers. Until the acceptance of Christian divinities, the Dogrib had no concept of a supreme being or the idea of worship of a supernatural entity. With the advent of the Roman Catholic missionaries in the 1860s, the Dogribs quickly accepted the teachings of the church. In the opinion of the early missionaries, they became the most devoted Catholics among the Dene peoples of the Northwest Territories.

Religious Practitioners. Although many Dogribs had a relationship with a spirit, from aboriginal times into the twentieth century a few became recognized as having exceptional powers for curing, hunting, and so on. No Dogribs have entered the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Ceremonies. There is no evidence that aboriginally the Dogrib had any form of group religious ceremony. Roman Catholic observances came to include not only those directed by the priest but also Sunday prayer services initiated by Dogribs when in the bush apart from church and priest.

Arts. Dogribs take great pleasure, as they must have aboriginally, in group dance on occasions when regional groups come together at such times as the annual treaty payments each summer. The tea dance goes on through the night as a great inward-facing circle of dancers moves clockwise to the accompaniment of melodic song by the dancers. In the drum dance, less popular among old-timers, the drummers sing and the people dance front to back rather than side by side. The Dogrib hand game, a fast-paced hidden-object guessing game between two teams of players accompanied by drumming-chanting, is another major event when different regional groups of Dogribs assemble at Rae or another locale. The Dogrib hand game players and drummers have become a feature of territories-wide assemblies of the Dene peoples.

Medicine. In aboriginal understanding, sickness resulted from the transgression of moral norms, including violation of an interdiction imposed by one's enabling animal spirit, or from the ink'on of another malevolently directed against the sufferer. An adept in curing was called in to diagnose, with the aid of his spirit helper, the cause of the illness. In case of the violation of a taboo or a moral norm, the confession of the ailing person was required in order to restore health. For some minor physical ailments, certain botanical products were believed to have curative properties. Dogribs have Generally been receptive to modern medical services.

Death and Afterlife. There is no real information about aboriginal beliefs regarding afterlife. Death as well as sickness might be caused by an individual's transgression or the malevolent power of an enemy. In contemporary times, all belief and ritual relating to death and the afterlife fall within the purview of Roman Catholic dogma and practice.

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