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

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 White 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.

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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