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The Peoples, Their Places

Northwind Dreaming: The First Peoples Before the Fur Trade

Chipewyan people in front of tipi, northern Alberta. Circa 1899. Before the fur trade, the Indians - Beaver, Chipewyan, and Cree - were totally self-reliant on the rich resources of the Athabasca region. They fashioned all their tools, clothing, and shelter and provided all their foods from the stones, plants, and animals which surrounded them.

Bark fish net, Provincial Museum of Alberta, H64.12.1, Fort Chipewyan, Bob McLaughlin, c.1907, Cree or Chipewyan.  W. 538 cm. The Indians knew the habits of the animals they hunted, trapped, and fished. Detailed traditions about the animals, the land, and proper human behaviour were passed on from one generation to the next in stories. The Indians used controlled burning to maintain grasslands to support bison and the small mammals on which fur-bearing carnivores such as lynx, fox and wolves feed. Moose took advantage of the secondary growth, which occurred along the edges of the meadows. In the Peace-Athabasca Delta, spring flooding also maintained early successional habitats, and the lakes and rivers supported beaver, muskrat, mink and otter. Mature forests provided food and shelter for caribou, marten, and other animals. The complex community of vegetation and animals produced a secure resource base on which residents still rely.

Painting of A trout, whitefish and "round fish". ca. 1819 - 1820. Despite the abundance of game in the Athabasca region, fish have been the most reliable source of food at all seasons for people and their dogs. Indians camped where they could fish as well as hunt. Later, the fur traders located their posts close to good fishing locations, or "fisheries". Today, the most common fish used locally are whitefish, lake trout, northern pike (jackfish), walleye (pickerel), and goldeye.

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