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RAM blog

Na’h e’tse’ah: Dene Hand Game

By Emma Knight, Assistant Curator, Indigenous Studies

June 16, 2020

Have you ever seen the Dene Tha’ hand game?

While developing our new galleries, we had the opportunity to work closely with Indigenous communities to develop displays that share their important stories. 

Roy Salopree and his nephew Delbert Salopree from Meander River, Dene Tha’ Nation are members of our Indigenous Advisory Panel. They worked with museum staff on the Dene displays, including one about the fast-paced and exciting Dene hand game. Roy and Delbert helped write and edit the exhibit panel text, Roy made the drums and hand game set on display, and Roy, Delbert, and Sidney Chambaud each played an integral part in directing the accompanying film with Hidden Story Productions.

I had the opportunity to visit Bushe River in 2016 with former Curator Susan Berry during the Dene Tha’ Assembly to watch the hand game. We were both hooked but remain utterly confused by the complexity of the hand signals! 

Watch the film here:

When I was in Meander River at the Dene Tha’ Assembly in 2017 I met Gladys Langkamp (nee Pastion), from Chateh and her husband Don. Gladys had a booth set up outside the arbor where she was displaying and selling some beaded rifle cases, mossbags and mukluks. We chatted a bit about the museum and realized that her late father, Jean Pastion, had made some drums for the museum in the 1990s. Gladys and I kept in touch and later that year we were fortunate enough to commission Gladys to make a beaded hide rifle case for the museum. The rifle case is a replica of the one her late mother Regina Pastion made for Gladys’ husband Don, which he holds close to his heart. Gladys’s rifle case is now in the gallery in the A’nƐ’d’tee-mbe-a’tslei: Everything Can Be Made with It display. 

A couple of years later I asked Gladys if she would make a beaded wool vest for the museum, similar to those seen in the film. She agreed and we were able to purchase this young man’s vest for the collection. Gladys’ beadwork is absolutely spectacular. She was taught to bead by her late mother Regina Pastion and still has some of her mother’s beads and fabrics, which she uses in her work. 

Our collecting practices have changed over the years. We still receive donations, however we also try to purchase objects directly from Indigenous makers and artists to support their work. This form of collecting helps us tell contemporary stories in our galleries, informed by Indigenous voices. 

Come visit our “What Makes Us Strong” gallery to view the hand game film and 14 others that explore stories and issues important to Indigenous peoples across the province. You can also see Gladys’ beautiful beaded hide rifle case. If you want to look at more of Gladys’ work you can check out her Facebook page.

Mah’si Cho to Roy, Delbert, Sidney and all the Dene Tha’ Nation hand game players. Thank you Gladys for sharing your art, wisdom and skills with us!

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