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Dunne-za and Dene-tha

Trout Lake proves to be well-namedTwo Dene Peoples, the Dunne-za (Beaver) and Dene-tha (Slave or Slavey), were the oldest human inhabitants of the northwest boreal forest region. Besides sharing variants of the Athapaskan language, both peoples were similar in many respects in terms of their traditional lifestyles. Both peoples organized themselves in small family groups, and specialized in the hunting of moose, caribou, and deer for food and hides. The Dene-tha however placed heavier reliance on fish as a main source of food than the Dunne-za did. The Dene-tha also favoured more ornamentation in clothing and artworks than the Dunne-za, and Dene-tha bead and quill-work was considered by some to be among the most exquisite among Aboriginal Peoples of the region. Spiritual belief varied between the two peoples, but did carry similar ideas about the spirit world and power of prophecy.

Contact with Europeans and the Cree People starting in the 1700s impacted the Dunne-za and Dene-tha in significant ways. In the case of the Dunne-za, the Cree pushed them out of their traditional homelands in the Peace River Region, and into lands further to the north and west. Both the Dene-tha and Dunne-za found their populations devastated by diseases like smallpox and influenza as a consequence of their contact with Europeans. Increased settlement and homesteading put extraordinary pressures on local animal populations, and made hunting and trapping for both peoples more difficult.

Both the Dunne-za and Dene-tha eventually signed on to Treaty 8, but the scattered natures of their bands made them slow to sign on as individual family groups had to be located for signing. As result, both peoples continued to pursue traditional life ways for many years after the Treaty was signed. Today, small populations of Dunne-za and Dene-tha live in a small number of communities primarily in the Peace River region of Alberta.

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