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The Dene people ( ) (Dené) are an aboriginal group of First Nations who live in the northern boreal and Arctic regions of Canada. The Dené speak Northern Athabaskan languages. Dene is the common Athabaskan word for "people" (Sapir 1915, p. 558). The term "Dene" has two usages. More commonly, it is used narrowly to refer to the Athabaskan speakers of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada, especially including the Chipewyan (Denesuline), Tlicho (Dogrib), Yellowknives (T'atsaot'ine), Slavey (Deh Gah Got'ine or Deh Cho), and Sahtu (the Eastern group in Jeff Leer's classification; part of the Northwestern Canada group in Keren Rice's classification). But it is sometimes also used to refer to all Northern Athabaskan speakers, who are spread in a wide range all across Alaska and northern Canada. Note that Dene never includes the Pacific Coast Athabaskan or Southern Athabaskan speakers in the continental U.S., despite the fact that the term is used to denote the Athabaskan languages as a whole (the Na-Dene language family). The Southern Athabaskan speakers do, however, refer to themselves with similar words: Diné (Navajo) and Indé (Apache).

Alexander Mackenzie described aspects of a number of northern Dene cultures in the late eighteenth century in his journal of his voyage down the Mackenzie River.[1]


  • Location 1
  • Ethnography 2
  • Notable Dene 3
  • Trivia 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Dene are spread through a wide region. They live in the Mackenzie Valley (south of the Inuvialuit), and can be found west of Nunavut. Their homeland reaches to western Yukon, and the northern part of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alaska and the southwestern United States.[2] Dene were the first people to settle in what is now the Northwest Territories. In northern Canada, historically there were ethnic feuds between the Dene and the Inuit. In 1996, Dene and Inuit representatives participated in a healing ceremony to reconcile the centuries-old grievances.[3]

Behchoko, Northwest Territories is the largest Dene community in Canada.


The Dene include five main groups:

  • Chipewyan (Denesuline), living east of Great Slave Lake, and including the Sayisi Dene living at Tadoule Lake, Manitoba
  • Tlicho (Dogrib), living between Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes
  • Yellowknives (T'atsaot'ine), living north of Great Slave Lake
  • Slavey (Deh Gah Got'ine or Deh Cho), the North Slavey (Sahtu, (Sahtúot’ine), including the Locheux, Nahanni, and Bear Lake peoples) living along the Mackenzie River (Deh Cho) near Great Bear Lake, the South Slavey southwest of Great Slave Lake and into Alberta and British Columbia.
  • Sahtu (Sahtúot’ine), including the Locheux, Nahanni, and Bear Lake peoples, in the central NWT.

Although the above-named groups are what the term "Dene" usually refers to in modern usage, other groups who consider themselves Dene include:

In 2005, elders from the Dene People decided to join the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) seeking recognition for their ancestral cultural and land rights.

The largest population of Denesuline speakers live in the northern Saskatchewan village of La Loche and the adjoining Clearwater River Dene Nation. In 2011 the combined population was 3389 people. The Denesuline language is spoken by 89% of the residents.[5]

Notable Dene


  • Lynx River, the fictional town on the Canadian television series North of 60 was a Slavey Dene community.[6]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  3. ^ "CBC's David McLauchlin dies at 56". CBC News. May 26, 2003. 
  4. ^ "Dene History". Tsuu T'ina Nation website. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  5. ^ "History of La Loche (La Loche 2011)". 2012-11-15. 
  6. ^ Winter, Patricia F. (2003) North of 60 Interview: Dakota House

Further reading

  • Abel, Kerry M. Drum Songs: Glimpses of Dene History. McGill-Queen's studies in ethnic history, 15. Montreal: Buffalo, 1993. ISBN 0-7735-0992-5
  • Bielawski, E. Rogue Diamonds: Northern Riches on Dene Land. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004. ISBN 0-295-98419-8
  • Holland, Lynda, Celina Janvier, and Larry Hewitt. The Dene Elders Project: Stories and History from the Westside. La Ronge, Sask: Holland-Dalby Educational Consulting, 2002. ISBN 0-921848-23-4
  • Marie, Suzan, and Judy Thompson. Dene Spruce Root Basketry: Revival of a Tradition. Mercury series. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2002. ISBN 0-660-18830-9
  • Marie, Suzan, and Judy Thompson. Whadoo Tehmi Long-Ago People's Packsack: Dene Babiche Bags : Tradition and Revival. Mercury series. Gatineau, Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004. ISBN 0-660-19248-9
  • Moore, Patrick, and Angela Wheelock. Wolverine Myths and Visions: Dene Traditions from Northern Alberta. Studies in the anthropology of North American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8032-8161-7
  • Ryan, Joan. Doing Things the Right Way: Dene Traditional Justice in Lac La Martre, N.W.T.. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995. ISBN 1-895176-62-X
  • Sharp, Henry S. Loon: Memory, Meaning, and Reality in a Northern Dene Community. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8032-4292-1
  • Watkins, Mel. Dene Nation, the Colony Within. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8020-2264-2
  • Wake, Val. White Bird Black Bird, Charleston, South Carolina, Booksurge, 2008 ISBN 1-4392-0345-8

External links

  • Dene Nation
  • People of the Deh Cho
  • Dene Crafts: Explore photographs, a comprehensive bibliography, and a brief history of Dene Crafts.
  • Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in 1789 and 1793 Vol. I (1902 ed.)
  • Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in 1789 and 1793 Vol. II (1903 ed.)
  • 1970s The Rise of Aboriginal Political Organizations NWT Historical Timeline, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
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