The Dunne-za (or 'Real People') are an Athapaskan-speaking people "associated with the Peace River valley eastward from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the parkland/forest on either side of the river." (Francis and Payne, p. 107). Historically they may also have been further east. Based on the explorer Alexander Mackenzie's accounts, it has often been assumed the Dunne-za were displaced from more favorable terrain by the westward -expanding Cree (According to Mackenzie. the Dunne-za originally inhabited a vast area in north-central Alberta east to the Saskatchewan border). This theory suggests the Cree, who had obtained guns through the fur trade, invaded new territories when those further east were depleted of fur-bearing animals, In the case of the Cree and Dunne-za, relations were said to be openly hostile until peace was finally reached at Peace Point on what was thereafter known as the Peace River (Ridington, p. 16; Dempsey, p. 73).
Russell argues that this interpretation of events may be wrong- that in describing various battles, Mackenzie "is very vague, if not silent, concerning the dates, the people and the motivations involved" (Russell, p. 34). And: "Even if we take Mackenzie's account at face value, it says nothing of the Cree invasion from the east but rather their movement into the Athapaskan basin from a position already far in the west" (Russell, p. 36).
Also, Francis and Payne recount the argument of John W. Yves who suggests Cree-Dunne-za conflicts probably represented comparatively minor shifts in location due to the circumstances of the fur trade and that Cree excursions into Dunne-za territory were likely raiding parties and not Cree territorial expansion (Francis and Payne, p. 110).
Trade posts were built along the Peace River in late 1700s and early1800s bringing the Dunne-za and Dene Tha into direct contact with fur trading companies (Ridington, p, 357), "More than two dozen posts were established by rival trading companies on the Peace River between 1786 and 1821" (Francis and Payne, p. 3).
According to Ridington, the Dunne-za's increased involvement in the fur trade during the nineteenth Century did not alter their basic dependence on hunting for subsistence. However, there appears to have been dependency to some extent as Francis and Payne report that in 1824 one Dunne-za was killed when a small party attacked Fort Dunvegan "apparently exasperated at waiting for the late arrival of trade goods" (Francis and Payne, p. 12).
Missionaries first arrived among the Dunne-za in 1845 and while they encouraged sedentary living habits the Hudson's Bay Company encouraged traditional hunting activities to the commercial advantage of the trade (Francis and Payne, p. 87). Says Ridington: "By the turn of the Century nearly all Beavers were nominally Roman Catholics, but in fact they had assimilated Catholic ideas in enrichment of their own traditions rather than giving them up in favor of the religion of the missionaries" (Ridington, p. 358).
By 1930 most Dunne-za territory along the Peace River had been settled by farmers, however the Indians still hunted and trapped towards the Hay Lakes and Caribou Mountains [Ridington, p. 358).6
Tribal location since Signing of Treaties
At one time the Dunne-za may have had territory extending to the Saskatchewan border. It's not clear if they were forced by the Cree to retreat, but their current location is north and west of the Peace River.
6.According to Ridington (p. 359) the Dunne-za of the upper Peace River remained in relative isolation until 1942 when the Alaska Highway was built through their territory. Says Ridington: "Most of the people who grew up after construction of the Alaska Highway have been to school and are literate in English. Beaver was still the first language. but because of increasing contact with English speaking people the generation that spoke Beaver in the 1970s will probably be the last."