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Alberta Online Encyclopedia and Edukits

Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia


People of the Boreal Forest Tidbits

  • Alberta played a major role in the history of Canada’s fur trade and was home to many fur trade forts.
  • The first trading posts in Alberta were established in the Athabasca region.
  • Dene and Beaver people live in Northern Alberta.
  • The Cree people enjoyed a variety of games. Long distance running was a popular sport. For those who were skilled with the bow and arrow, the Hoop Game was a favorite activity.
  • At the time of contact, Aboriginal People were willing to help the European fur traders and settlers. They showed them how to make moccasins, canoes and snowshoes, and offered them food and shelter.
  • On the Prairies the principle mode of transportation other than walking was the birch bark canoe.
  • Snowshoes were another form of transportation, allowing people to travel swiftly over deep snow in search of animals such as caribou, elk and deer–all important food sources during the winter months.
  • Snowshoes allowed families to utilize traplines over the winter months. Traplines were a source of smaller game such as the rabbit, muskrat or beaver.
  • Snowshoes also allowed people access to frozen lakes for ice fishing in which they caught pike, walleye and trout.
  • The toboggan, snowshoe and canoe all became important modes of transportation for fur traders and explorers.
  • The Algonquian language group includes Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwa (Saulteaux) and Algonkian.
  • Before the Europeans introduced beads, ribbon and buttons, many Aboriginal women used porcupine quills to decorate clothing.
  • Saskatoon berries and chokecherries were some of the favorite berries of the Cree.
  • Many Cree people believe the Northern Lights are caused by the reflection of departed spirits dancing in the realm of the great beyond.
  • The Cree people were introduced to guns before the Dene, their neighbors to the north.
  • The Algonquian language family is the largest in Canada. Languages that are spoken in insolated communities may have a low number of speakers, but they are considered viable languages because the language tends to be spoken at home as the mother tongue. Some examples of these languages are Dogrib, Montagnais-Naskapi, Micmac, and Dene
  • The Clearwater River area is regarded by historians as an important site. It is believed that many Aboriginal Peoples from the upper northern region and the northern plains made contact in this area.
  • The Athabascan speaking Beaver peoples were the original inhabitants who were eventually displaced due to the fur trade by Cree and Dene peoples.
  • Fort Chipewyan moved twice from its original location, finally residing in its permanent residence in 1803.
  • By the 1870s, there were several communities of mixed-bloods living around Lesser Slave Lake, Dunvegan, Peace River Crossing, Spirit River, Flying Shot Lake, Saskatoon Lake, and Fort St. John in the Peace Country. A group of Métis latered entered the Peace Country and northeastern Alberta following the Riel uprising of 1885.
  • Aboriginal People believe that we are all related-the two legged share the planet with the four legged, the winged ones, the ones that crawl, the plants, the ones that swim, the rock and minerals, the earth and sky. In sum, this is known as the Circle of Life
  • Kinnikinnik is commonly found in open woods or on dry, sandy hillsides.
  • There are currently eight major Aboriginal groups in Alberta:
    • Slavey
    • Beaver
    • Dene
    • Woodland Cree
    • Stoney
    • Plains Cree
    • Sarcee
    • Blackfoot Confederacy
  • Beaver
    The Beaver Nation was related to the Dene Tha, Dene, and Tsuu T’ina. They shared Athapaskan based languages. The Cree arrival pushed them out from their northern Alberta and Saskatchewan territory into the area west and north of the Peace River. They were victims of disease and changing food supplies. Their population was reduced to a fraction of the original numbers. They were the last First Nation to sign the Treaty 8 in May 1900.
  • Cree Nation
    The Algonkian speaking Cree were often described by where their groups lived. Plains Cree, Woodland Cree, Swampy Cree, and Moose Cree lived in western Canada. The original Cree territory was in the woodlands of central Canada. The Cree moved along with the fur trade as middlemen and workers for the fur companies.
  • The term "Cree" most likely originated from a French name of unknown origin, Kristineaux. The Cree people refer to themselves as Nehiyawak meaning exact people.
  • Dene (Chipewyan) Nation
    The Dene cover a vast tract of land including as far east as Hudson Bay and as far west as Great Slave Lake in Alberta. This nomadic people did not organize themselves into a large connected system. Their language defined them as a community and their leadership was rarely defined and quite flexible. “Chipewyan” comes from a Cree term meaning "pointed skins.” Theories behind the origin of their name suggest that the name may be derived from the way they made and wore their shirts or it may be how they prepared their furs for trade. Dene considered both the Cree and the Inuit as their enemies. Over 90 percent of Dene died from smallpox. They signed Treaty 8 in 1898 with the Cree and Beaver Nations. Because the Dene did not have settled communities in a known space, they were allowed land for individual families.
  • Dene Tha (Slavey)
    The Dene Tha inhabited Alberta’s far north, their hunting territory encompassing part of the Northwest Territories. They were known as Acha’otinne, or "woodland people." They lived in family groupings with no large community group or group leadership except during war. They were respectful of each other as well as of outsiders. They were forest-dwellers who ate fish, moose and caribou. The southernmost Dene Tha signed Treaty 8 in 1900. Those to the north signed Treaty 11 in 1921.
  • White Birch was used for more than just healing. It’s bark was also used to make baskets, dishes and fans
  • White birch trees start out with brown bark, and gradually turn white, and may turn black when old Aboriginal people would sometimes chew lumps of spruce or pine sap
  • It usually takes 10-12 years before the bark on a White Birch tree actually looks white.
  • The berries from the Bearberry or Kinnikinnik plant sometimes resemble small apples.
  • Ingesting too much Bearberry or Kinnikinnik can make your urine GREEN!
  • Algonquian languages account for the highest share of Aboriginal languages in all provinces, except for British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.


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