Feeding the Fire

Food and ReciprocityAmong the Dene


  • David S Walsh Gettysburg College




indigenous religions, ontology, foodways, climate change, reciprocity, gifting


For the indigenous Dene of subarctic Canada, food is central to negotiating their relationships with family, animals, and the spirits of ancestors. Indigenous religions and environmental relationships are seldom discussed in terms of foodways, yet centering a discussion of Dene spirituality around the materiality and necessity of food grounds an understanding in the lived realities of Dene peoples. Dene understand animals to gift themselves as food to hunters, who in return demonstrate respect to the animal by sharing the meat within the human community and by offering meat to ancestors through ceremonies such as feeding the fire, thus maintaining social relationships with animals and ancestors through respectful reciprocity. Dene also demonstrate respect by following interspecies social conventions, protocols of respect particular to different beings which are followed by all those involved in the killing, distribution, cooking, and eating. This includes not just male hunters but also women so that animals will continue to give themselves to the people. In traditional Dene ontologies, respectful reciprocity through sharing food serves to maintain balanced and mutually beneficial relationships between social beings living in the same environment.


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How to Cite

Walsh, D. S. (2016). Feeding the Fire: Food and ReciprocityAmong the Dene. Religious Studies and Theology, 35(2), 123–130. https://doi.org/10.1558/rsth.32548