The Chipewyan are a northern nomadic
tribe whose territory stretched
from the Churchill River north to the tundra and from Hudson Bay in the
east to Great Slave Lake and part of Alberta in the west. Although a
numerous people, they had very little internal social or governmental
structure. It was their language that defined them as a community while
their leadership was generally left undefined and quite flexible.
The Chipewyan name is derived from a Cree term meaning "pointed
skins" which may refer to the way these particular peoples made and
wore their shirts. Chipewyan culture traditionally valued
flexibility and personal freedom and they, unlike most other Plains
peoples of their time, had no system of organized warfare, although both
the Cree and the Inuit were considered to be their enemies. After the
arrival of the white man in their region, the Chipewyan population was
sadly depleted by smallpox which claimed a reported 90% of their peoples.
In 1898 the Chipewyan signed Treaty 8 along with the Cree and Beaver.
Under the terms of the treaty the Chipewyan were allowed to obtain land in
individual allotments as they shared no official community and did not
wish to confine themselves to reserves.