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The Peoples, Their Places

Northwind Dreaming: The Peoples of Fort Chipewyan


Fort Chipewyan woman with child. (National Archives of Canada, C-24480)The social roots of Fort Chipewyan predate the fur trade and the arrival of Europeans by thousands of years, to the establishment of Dene (Athapaskan) peoples to the north and west of Lake Athabasca and of Algonkian peoples to the south. David Thompson outlined these differences in his Narrative when he talked of ".two distinct races of Indians.":

".North of the latitude of fifty six degrees, the country is occupied by a people who call themselves 'Dinnie', by the Hudson Bay Traders 'Northern Indians' and by the southern neighbours 'Cheepawyan'.Southward of the above latitude the country is in the possession of the Nahathaway Indians their native name (Note. These people by the French Canadians, who are all without the least education, in their jargon call them 'Krees'.)"

group of beaver peopleIn fact, neither group was probably aboriginal to the western end of Lake Athabasca, which seems to have been inhabited by the Beaver Indians, an Athapaskan people. While Beaver Indians visited Pond's post and Fort Chipewyan, they had evidently been driven out of part of the region by Crees. One version of this story was recorded by W.F. Wentzel in a letter to Roderick Mackenzie from his post at the "Forks" on the Mackenzie River. He describes the Indians of his region as Beaver Indians, who

".pretend to be a branch of the tribe of the Beaver Indians of the Peace River, from whom they had been formerly separated and then driven this way by their inveterate enemies the Crees, who, previous to the introduction of European arms into this quarter, were continually waging war against them." (Wentzel 1889:85)

Teepees at Fort Chipewyan, 1899 In local tradition, Peace Point, a location on the north shore of the Peace River in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park, was the site where Beaver and Cree Indians negotiated a peaceful end to their disputes. Beaver Indians appear in post records occasionally in the first quarter of the 19th century, but after that period they seem to have settled farther west up the Peace River, in the Fort Vermilion region. [continue]

Reprinted from "Northwind Dreaming: Kiwetin Pawatmowin Tthisi Niltsi Nats ete" with permission of the Provincial Museum of Alberta and Dr. Patricia McCormack.