The Chipewyan Nation
The Chipewyan People are speakers of the Athapaskan language
who can trace their history back to a time when they occupied a
vast range of land, spanning the Hudson Bay region in present-day northern Ontario, west through to the
boreal forest regions of today’s Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The word
Chipewyan is thought to have originated from the Cree
word Chipawayanawok meaning “pointed skins”, based on the design and style of the shirts worn by
Chipewyan men which came to a point in the back. In their own language, the Chipewyan people referred
to themselves as Dene which simply translated means “the people”.
Unlike many of the other First Peoples who came to sign Treaty 6
in 1876, the Chipewyan were not a plains people, and were therefore not heavily affected by the
treaty process until 1899, when the Canadian government approached them to sign Treaty 8,
a treaty which covers their territories in northern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, and the southern
Northwest Territories. Subsequently, in 1907, they negotiated with the government and signed Treaty 10,
ceding additional lands in northern Saskatchewan. However, one band of Chipewyan did sign onto
Treaty 6, taking reserve land in northeast Alberta.
Chipewyan custom and tradition stem from a northern life
of hunting and trapping. Social life took place without many
of the rites of passage common to the Plains First Peoples, while spirituality
and religion were expressed in Chipewyan culture through mysticism and magic, a mode of belief not
uncommon to the woodlands peoples.
Malinowski, Sharon and Anna Sheets, eds., “Chipewyan.” The Gale Encyclopedia of North American
Tribes, Vol. III
. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Smith, James G.E. “Chipewyan,” in DeMallie, Raymond J. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 6.
Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.