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Dene 'Tha

The Dene 'Tha, also known as the "Slavey," are the most northerly tribe in Alberta. Traditionally, their hunting grounds extended into the present-day 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.

Organized 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.

The clothing 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, representatives 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.
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