Connecting With Diverse Dene Heroes

written by Linda Hill based on conversations with Nola Landucci and a visit with Mary-Anne Neal!

Nola is a member of the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative who is a retired Human Rights Worker. Nola currently practices Inclusive Leadership on a daily basis through her involvement in healing and reconciliation, Quakers, family-based mental health support and community gardening.  Nola and Mary-Anne Neal first met when they were raising their children in Victoria together. They have been friends ever since. Nola invited me to meet Mary-Anne at a lovely open-house event in Sydney, BC.

Nola shared, “I am so proud of my friend!  In 1971, 19 year-old Mary-Anne Neal hitchhiked her way by bush-plane up to Colville Lake in the middle of the Northwest Territories to begin an unforgettable young adult adventure teaching and learning with the Dene people.” Mary-Anne shared, “Forty-four years later I returned to Colville Lake and was told this by the Elders: “We not only remember you,  Sayday Maree (which means “younger sister Mary), we have been waiting for you to come back and pay what we taught you forward.”

Mary-Anne began collaborating with the Dene people in 2015 to develop and nurture the Dene Heroes Publication Project which was recently awarded a $100,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize for building literacy and leadership skills among Indigenous youth and increase pride in the Dene people.

Two books have been published already. Mary-Anne is preparing a team of Indigenous youth to lead the development and publishing of a third collaborative book about Dene heroes that will be once again be distributed to all five communities in the Sahtu.

The Dene Heroes Publication Project inspires Indigenous students, community members, and out-of-school youth to write about someone they admire of Dene descent with contributors interviewing elders, talking about heroic qualities, writing about their heroes, taking photographs, drawing pictures, and reading what others have written.

Partnering with schools, community members contribute their ideas, stories and pictures to be published in the book that is then distributed at a celebration in each community. Each person who contributes to the Dene Heroes book receives two copies of their book – one copy for themselves and one to share with someone they admire.

For more information contact: Mary-Anne Neal, Project Director Email: