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Chipewyan

Mary and Benjamin MarcelThe Chipewyan People are part of the group of Athapaskan or Dene speakers of the northwest. Traditionally, the Chipewyan people occupied a region covering northeastern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, northwestern Manitoba, and the southern Northwest Territories. The Chipewyans lived a nomadic lifestyle centred around the migration of the caribou of the Barren Lands. In the summer, the Chipewyans would hunt the caribou as they migrated north into the Barren Lands. In the winter, the Chipewyans would follow the caribou south into the northern boreal forest. Social division among the Chipewyans was by local family groups, which included both nuclear and extended family. Several such family groups would make up a regional band.

Hides of animals were used for everything from clothing to shelter. Hide robes, shirts, footwear, and leggings were crafted from hide. Traditional shelter was a house made with wood frames and walled with tree bark or animal hides. Such shelters resembled teepees, but were rounded instead of cone shaped.

Chipewyan spiritual belief did not include gods or spirits, but did incorporate an afterlife in which the souls of the good would enter a stone boat and travel to a beautiful island. Evil souls would not reach the island, but sink into the water to struggle for all eternity.

Because of the large overall territory involved, various Chipewyan bands were signed into four different Treaties with the Federal Government: Treaties 6, 7, 8, and 10. In the 1960s, the petroleum industry made incursions into traditional Chipewyan territory, and the subsequent development led to a rapid shift away from traditional living to a more industrial founded, community based lifestyle.

Present day Chipewyan people in Canada number about 27,000, living in twenty-seven communities roughly spanning traditional territories in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories. Many Chipewyan communities have actively tried to maintain education of traditional language, values, and customs to ensure that such concepts are not completely lost to younger generations.

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