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The Peoples, Their Places

The Slavey (Dene Tha') Nation: Fur Trade and Treaty 8

[Dene Tha' First Nation Profile]

   
slavey man in canoe Until 1778, when French traders began trading in the vicinity of Lake Athabasca, the Slavey probably did not trade directly with Europeans, but through Chipewyan middlemen who travelled yearly to Hudson's Bay.  In order to acquire trade goods they had to change their whole pattern of subsistence to one adapted to trapping.  As they were fairly remote from trading posts, they were pretty much left alone until the 1860s, when Bishop Bompas, an Anglican missionary, visited the tribes along the Mackenzie in 1865.  The Oblates came a few years later.

When the Treaty 8 commission travelled to Fort Vermilion in 1899, the Slaveys decided not to attend.  Several representatives of Slavey bands did sign Treaty 8 in 1900 and several others in 1902.  At the time of these negotiations, a total of 1,323 Slaveys were admitted to the treaty. The estimate of pre-contact populations was around 1,250.  Exposure to white man's diseases soon depleted the population, especially following an influenza epidemic around Fort Norman.  They too, like the Beaver, were thought to be on the way to extinction.  Their population had decreased to about 800, but rallied after health care and modern medicines became available following the Second World War.  By 1983, the population had increased to 4,081.  

In Alberta there are four reserves, all located in the northwest corner of Alberta on the Upper Hay River.  Many Slaveys work in forest-related industries and in the oilpatch around the communities of High Level, Zama City, and Rainbow Lake.

Reprinted from "A Sense of the Peace," by Roberta Hursey with permission of the Spirit of the Peace Museums Association and the author.