Prophecy and Power among the Dogrib Indians


Prophecy and Power among the Dogrib Indians

June Helm

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians Series

173 pages


November 1994


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About the Book

The Dogrib Indians are one of the Dene people of Western Canadian Subarctic; they speak a language belonging to the widespread Athapaskan family, whose southern relatives include the Navajos and Apaches of the southwestern United States. This study draws on the author’s field studies from 1959 to 1974 to present an ethnographic description of Dogrib religion. The first part of the book introduces three prophets who came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. Though they developed from the same tradition and had the same aims, their prophetic styles contrasted dramatically with one another. Helm situates the prophetic movement in relation to tribal and Christian traditions and shows the determining importance of the prophets personalities in shaping their teachings.

The second part of the book examines the traditional Dogrib concept of power (ink’on), drawing on information given over the course of the years by Vital Thomas, a religious leader who collaborated closely with Helm. This firsthand material, told in Thomas’s own words, is noteworthy for its personal perspective and for the understanding it provides of the differing sources and uses of power. This concept of power is so pervasive in daily life that it forms the key for understanding the dynamics of Dogrib culture. The book concludes with a brief autobiography related by Vital Thomas.

Prophecy and Power among the Dogrib Indians is important for documenting the prophet movement among the Dene people in the late twentieth century and for situating it historically in the context of Dogrib traditional culture.

Author Bio

June Helm is a professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa. She is the editor of the Subarctic volume of the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians.