Burnt Snow: My Years Living & Working with the Dene of the Northwest Territories
By: Kieran Moore
ISBN: 978-0-88839-309-8 [trade paperback- B&W Interior]
ISBN: 978-0-88839-356-2 [trade hardcover- Colour Interior]
ISBN: 978-0-88839-265-7 [ebook- Colour Interior]
Vanishing before our eyes a way of life that is changing so fast it is frightening. Life in the North is undergoing incredible changes and yet the people of the North cling onto every vestige of that old life that they can. In the early seventies, those medicine men that were left from the old era struggled to remind and educate their people to not give up their old ways. To not let it all fall by the wayside. Their children were now speaking another tongue and returned from residential schools scared from disconnection with a family and communal life. This book reflects the people of that time, and their lifestyle of living off the land in total independence and their incredible life-skills of survival.
The author, an Irish Immigrant, who for 5 years was partially raised by a metis family in Winnipeg, heads North in a soul searching mission to find himself and his place in life. The reflections of his encounters with some of the leading figures of the North are quite humorous and consequential to the development of the North. Many of the chapters describing the Elders who would influence him in countless ways and how their teachings later are the source of making it possible for him to survive some seemingly impossible situations of survival.
Traveling from community-to-community, quite often by Dog team on long solo trips, he covers the vast areas of all the surrounding land of Great Bear and Great Slave Lake. Or traveling by floatplane or winter road to isolated villages to construct log buildings such as community halls, schools, churches, stores, garages, and homes. All of which were built by the local people under his supervision. Using dog teams to haul all the logs from miles around both people and dogs were hired. A dying way of life the trapping industry slowly falling by the wayside all these dog teams were starting to become of no use, but by using them in the log hauling they now had a purpose. The poverty that ensued with the fall of the trapping industry and no additional aid from the government was disheartening and caused great hardship in these communities. There was no other source of income. When the author arrived on the scene the construction of these buildings was a great relief and brought a small reprieve to their situation.
In between these opportune times of finding work in these isolated areas the author goes on adventures that often lead to hair razing worrisome situations. One in which he has to walk 80 miles to get help for his companions and his dogs who were completely out of food. A trip from down in a deep valley on the Horn Plateau to a downhill trek to the Mackenzie River with almost no food. A snowshoe trip that consisted of 3 days and 2 nights with one night's sleep.
An almost gypsy-like medicine man arrives one day under very bad ice conditions and then 3 weeks later leaves in impossibly worse ice conditions. Conditions so bad that the entire community cannot figure out how he did it with seven dogs and a sled on absolute mush ice and open water conditions. This medicine man would have the greatest influence on the author and made him even challenge life more than he could ever imagine he would.
Kieran Moore is an Irish immigrant who, at the age of twenty, faced impending layoffs at his construction job in Winnipeg. He was frustrated at the instability and purposelessness of his life at the time and decided to head into the Northwest Territories in the hope of finding that purpose there. Shortly after arrival, he was asked to build a church in the Dene community of Rae Lakes in the northern boreal region of Canada. That assignment led to his immersion in the world of the Dene throughout the 1970-1980s, the period covered in his book.
It was at a time of dramatic change for Dene communities. He experienced both the richness of character of the people and shared in their traditional ways and also experienced the confusion and suffering the community underwent as the old ways came under threat from outside forces. The tradition of storytelling was an integral part of the Dene way and he learned a great deal by listening to their elders and working with them as they built structures, lived side by side, and hunted together. The stories he tells reflect his personal engagement with the Dene of the N.W.T. and they are told in the spirit of the storytelling tradition of the Dene and that of his Irish ancestors.
The author presently lives in Peterborough Ontario, still clinging to the past with good connections with his friends in the North, some of which make the long journey to do talks at Trent University and stop in for visits. He owns two incredibly large Huskies that take up a great part of his time. He has done guiding for Mahoosuc Guide, operating adventure trips in Chibougamau Quebec. Trips such as week-long dog sled and canoe trips in the Quebec wilderness on Cree family trap-line.
“Burnt Snow opens the reader to the fascinating world of Dene life, culture, way of life, mythology, medicine, and beliefs. This is a great book and will be greatly appreciated by the people of the North. The world needs to see and read this book.”
--Senator Nick Sibbeston
"This is an amazing book about a young man who embraced the Dene culture in our spectacular True North in exploring, travel and working. A respectful story of our people’s lives in a time of great change.”
-- Charles Neyelle, Dene Spiritual leader and Elder of Deline, Northwest Territories.
“As a young man, he set out to experience the hunter/gather culture of the Dene people before it disappeared and wise elders shared everything with him - their land and skills, legends and so much more for a reason. They knew how to live in complete harmony with the environment. Something we in the south have lost, and now Mother Nature is screaming."
-- Peter Blow, Documentary filmmaker (Village of Widows, The BarrensQuest)
“This is a work of historical significance to Canada. Moore records events during a period of rapid change in the Canadian north, a period of industrialization, devolution, the re-emergence of Indigenous self-government. This, of itself, qualifies the work as a historical document. I would suggest that this book will appeal to scholars and enthusiasts interested in the north; to hunters, fishers and wilderness travelers, to scholars of history, anthropology, and public policy, and ultimately it will appeal to those who love a good story."
-- David Young, retired Manitoba economist and wildlife enthusiast.
“Mr. Moore’s book is equal parts frank self-exploration and humble ethnology. As a newcomer in Dene and Dogrib lands, Moore experienced local culture, economics, and, at times, overwhelming change, first hand. I admire his approach as a sojourner and writer. Moore lived in the north for more than three decades but never assumes a superior tone in his perspective. He arrived in the north to be educated and never stopped learning and listening. This is a memoir steeped in love and respect for the life skills and vast knowledge of the land-based people he encountered in the Northwest Territories of Canada."
-- James Cullingham, Adjunct Graduate Faculty Member Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies, Trent University.