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(Other) Ways of Speaking: Lessons from the Dene of Northern Canada

Author: Cynthia Chambers
Publication Year: 1992

Chambers draws on the testimony at the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline inquiry, along with other Dene sources, to complicate English/Western ways of speaking, teaching, and thinking about education. Listening to Dene lessons remind us that all knowledge is storied, that communication must balance telling and listening, that a listener is responsible for much interpretation, and that family/community are central to education, as is land. Her paper is followed by some text from the Berger inquiry, along with an interpretation of said testimony.


Western European forms of discourse have been foisted upon the world as the universal value-neutral reference point. External standards have been used to assess aboriginal discourse, particularly in public contexts such as schools and courtrooms. These standards assume that there is one single correct way to proceed (to talk, write, argue, teach), and that ways of knowing and proceeding are universal and foundational. The Dene remind us that all knowledge is "storied," that is, knowing and communicating are always partial (no one knows the whole story) and contextualized (all stories are rooted in a particular time, place, and set of sociocultural conditions). Ethical forms of communication (including teaching/learning) require a balance between narration and listening. Dene elders criticize schooling for teaching children to talk too much. Dene discourse emphasizes restraint, silence, and discernment of the right moment for speaking/writing or listening/interpretation. Dene ways of speaking equalize power differences between speaker and listener. A speaker does not state the point or argument directly. In such a communicative context, the audience assumes much of the responsibility of interpretation. Story, personal experience, and culture must form the basis of curriculum for aboriginal education. This paper contains Dene testimony before the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and a detailed rhetorical analysis of that testimony. (SV)

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The full text of this conference paper can be found on ERIC.

Chambers, Cynthia. “(Other) Ways of Speaking: Lessons from the Dene of Northern Canada.” Presented at the Annual Conference of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Vancouver, British Columbia 4 Mar 1992.


Additional Info

  • Publication Type: Conference Proceedings
  • In Publication: Annual Conference of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Place Published: Vancouver, BC
  • Keywords: Mackenzie Valley Development|Education
Last modified on Saturday, 26 May 2018 20:27