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Chippewa and Chipewyan Indians of Canada

Chippewa or Ojibwa. Bands of this immense tribe extended from Lake Nipissing westward along the north shore of Lake Superior, and in later times they settled in southern Manitoba, in the northern part of the present States of Minnesota and North Dakota and along the southern shore of Lake Superior. The Saulte Ste. Marie was considered by them their ancient center of dispersion. Northward they reached the upper course of Albany River. (See Minnesota.)

Chipewyan. From a Cree word meaning "pointed skins," referring to the pointed parkas or shirts which they wore. Also called:

  Montagnais, French name.
Mountaineers, English name.
Yatcheé-thinyoowuc, Cree name, meaning "strangers."

Connections. The Chipewyan formed a dialectic division of the Athapascan linguistic stock.

Location. The boundaries of this group of Indians have changed considerably but in general their territory lay north of Churchill River, between Great Slave Lake and Slave and Athabaska Rivers on the west and Hudson Bay on the east.


The principal subdivisions seem to have been as follows:  
Athabaska, between Lake Athabaska and Great Slave Lake and in the territory eastward.
Desnedekenade, along Slave River, near Fort Resolution.
Etheneldeli or Caribou-Eaters, mainly about Lakes Caribou, Axe, and Brochet.
Thilanottine, in later times on the shores of Lacrosse Lake and between Cold Lake and Fort Locha.
The Tatsanottine or Yellow Knives, sometimes considered a subdivision, Jennees (1932) believes to have been independent. It is doubtful whether the distinction represented by these divisions was more than temporary. (See the section on History.)

History. Petitot (1876 a) states that the Chipewyan tribe was living on Peace River in 1718, that after the Cree had obtained guns they drove the Etchaottine or Slaves from their hunting grounds along Slave River, but that they were attacked in turn by the Chipewyan and expelled from the country, the Chipewyan taking their places. Jenness wholly discredits this tradition, however, and gives the following summary of events bearing on the relative position of Chipewyan and Cree tribes during this period: He thinks that when the fur-trading posts were established on Hudson Bay the Chipewyan already occupied the country from the Great Slave Lake and Lake Athabaska eastward:

. . . but that the intense fusion resulting from the fur trade obliterated the old subdivisions into tribes or bands and broke down also dialectic differences. Then the Cree pushed northward and seized the country between Lake Athabaska and Great Slave Lake [the Slave River], driving the Beaver up the Peace River [the Beaver and Cree together driving the Sekani into the Rockies] and confining the Chipewyan or Northern Indians to the territory designated by Hearne. Then came the smallpox epidemic that decimated both Cree and Chipewyan, but particularly the Cree, who were forced to withdraw a little from Chipewyan territory, allowing the latter to reoccupy Lake Athabaska, the Slave River, and the southern and eastern shores of Great Slave Lake, though a few Cree still lingered on Lake Athabaska and on the Slave River. This was the condition in Mackenzie's day, who defines the territory of the Chipewyans as extending from 100°-110° W. by 60°-65° N., although his unpublished MS. and that of Roderic Mackenzie make them the principal inhabitants of Lake Athabaska, especially its eastern end. The establishment of posts on Lake Athabaska broke the Chipewyans up into two groups, an eastern that still traded at the posts on Hudson Bay, and a western that traded at Lake Athabaska. Subsequently the Cree recovered a little and penetrated this western country in greater numbers, so that today there are practically no Chipewyans near the Mackenzie River except at Fond du Lac, at the east end of Lake Athabaska, and at Fort Resolution and around the south shores of Great Silver Lake. Slave River is occupied by Cree, as is also Fort Chipewyan; and the Cree dwell all along the Peace River up to Peace River Landing, and have a large colony at Hudson Hope. [Jenness.]

The Athabaska division consisted simply of those Chipewyan who chose to trade at Lake Athabaska. The Athabaska or "Athapuskow" Indians of Hearne (1795) were Cree.

Population. Alexander Mackenzie (1801) estimated that there were about 400 Athabaska Chipewyan, and Mooney (1928) that there were 3,500 Chipewyan in all, including 1,250 Caribou-eaters, in 1670. In 1906 there were 2,420, of whom 900 were Caribou-eaters.

Connection in which they have become noted. From one of their Chipewyan bands, the Athabaska, has come the term Athapascan selected by Powell (1891) for the designation of the linguistic stock to which the Chipewyan belong, although, curiously enough, the name does not appear to be Athapascan at all.

The Indian Tribes of North of America, by John Swanton, 1953

Canadian Indians

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