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Chipewyan

Before the 1800s Chipewyan was spoken by a distinct group of Athapaskans who lived throughout the lower Northwest Territories between Hudson Bay and Great Slave Lake. The name "Chipewyan" was actually coined by the Cree to describe these people who refer to themselves as Dene (DB). The Cree word "Chipewyan" means "pointed skins" and refers to the distinctive tunic traditionally worn by these Dene people.

The first European to encounter Athapaskans was William Stewart who in 1715 traveled, with 150 Cree, west from York Factory. He invited the Chipewyan to trade and cease hostilities with the Cree (Smith, p. 273 and 283). Shortly thereafter, in 1717, a Hudson Bay post was established at Churchill and trade with the Chipewyan's was underway (Smith, p. 273). Some Chipewyan's played a role as middle men in the fur trade until the late 1700s when trading posts were built further west allowing fur companies to deal directly with such tribes as the Dunne-za, Dogrib and Sekani (Smith, p. 273).

Chipewyan life changed significantly from 1780 to 1900. The fur trade, the impact of disease and the arrival of missionaries all combined to alter the Chipewyan way of life and were factors in the Chipewyan signing Treaty Eight and acquiring reserves. The devastating effect of disease on the Chipewyan was indicated as early as 1781 when Samuel Hearne estimated a smallpox epidemic killed nine-tenths of known Chipewyan's, although at the time he likely knew little about Chipewyan's further west (Dempsey, p. 68).

Fort Chipewyan was built on Lake Athabasca in what is now Alberta in 1789. A dependence grew on the fur trade but whether this caused Chipewyan's to settle into northern Alberta trapping territories or whether they had been there already, is not clear (Smith, p. 273-280). By 1845 Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries had set out to convert northern Indians. Dempsey claims most Chipewyan's were converted by 1899 (Dempsey, p. 68-69). The Oblates of Mary Immaculate claimed complete conversion of the territories by 1905. (Whether this meant real conversions see Ridington's comments re: the Dunne-za).

Tribal Locations since Signing of Treaties

Chipewyan territory extends into northeast Alberta. Those in Alberta were known to participate in the fur trade especially after Fort Chipewyan was established on Lake Athabasca In 1789.


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