'Tha, also known as the "Slavey," are the most
northerly tribe in Alberta. Traditionally, their hunting grounds extended into
Northwest Territories. The Dene ' Tha inhabited the lands drained
by the Hay River, flowing northward into Great Slave Lake.
The name "Slavey" or "slave" was a derisive
name given by their traditional enemies the Cree and is therefore
not commonly used by the Dene 'Tha themselves.
into six bands, they maintained small family groupings with no
central leadership, only electing leaders in times of conflict. The
Dene 'Tha developed a reputation
for being a peaceful people with a rich tradition of story telling. They were respectful of each
other as well as of outsiders and, as forest-dwellers, they had few enemies
and a reputation for being powerful sorcerers.
of the Dene 'Tha was more decorative than other Athapaskan tribes.
Before beads were obtained through trade, they used porcupine quills and colored moose hair for adornment.
To this day, Dene 'Tha women are renowned for their beautiful beadwork and silk embroidery.
The Dene 'Tha diet
included moose, deer and caribou, but fish was considered a staple, caught
during the winter months by running spruce root nets from one hole
in the ice to another. Fish was either boiled in water-tight
baskets, roasted by open fires or dried.
Their dwellings were conical lodges made usually of spruce bark or brush and two families
tended to place their lodges together, with entrances facing the fire. During the winter months the
Dene 'Tha lived in low, oblong cabins constructed of poles with walls chinked together with moss and a
roof of spruce boughs.
When the Treaty 8
commissioners traveled to Fort Vermilion in
1899, the Dene 'Tha decided not to attend. However,
of the southernmost Dene 'Tha signed Treaty 8 in 1900 and others
in 1902. Those farther
north signed Treaty 11 in 1921.
For more information on First Nations issues and history,
please visit some of the following websites:
Reprinted from A Sense of the Peace: A Historical Overview and
Study of Communities and Museums in the Peace River Country (July
1996) by Roberta Hursey with permission of the Spirit of the Peace
Museums Association and the author.