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Dene Tha Place Names

As with the other Dene tribes, there are few official place names originating with the Dene Tha. Those which exist are almost all commemorative. Five official names are said to be commemorate a person or event. For example, three of the most important landmarks in the region are said to be named after Dene Tha chiefs.

Zama Lake is drained into nearby Hay Lake by Zama River. Zama Lake and River are said to be named after a Dene chief who had a trail along the river (DB). Also, the hamlet of Chateh, formerly known as Assumption, sits on Hay Lake and is named in honor of the Dene chief who signed Treaty Eight in 1900 (DB). The hamlet of Habay is also on the Hay Lake Reserve but is not a Native name. Father Joseph Habay visited the area in 1908 and returned in 1951-56 to direct the Indian Residential School on the reserve (DB).

The largest landmark in the Dene Tha's Alberta territory carries the only name in Alberta (other than commemorative names) said to use the Dene Tha language. Bistcho Lake is situated in the far northwest corner of the province. The word "bistcho" is supposed to mean either "big stomach" or "big knife." Originally, Father Emile Petitot who visited the lake in 1878 named the lake after himself. However, it was later renamed (DB). Beaverskin Creek, which flows into British Columbia west of Rainbow Lake, is apparently a translation of a Dene Tha name in usage for many years (DB).

One might also expect Lesser Slave Lake to be a Dene Tha name considering that the tribe has long been referred to as the Slavey. However, "slave" is an English rendering of the word used by the Cree in reference to various foreign tribes or "strangers." In the case of Lesser Slave Lake it's not clear which strangers were meant. It's believed the Dunne-za occupied this area at one time and the name could also refer to them.


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