The word “Chipewyan” is derived from Cree meaning “pointed skin”, but most Chipewyan call themselves “Dene” or people (McCormack and Smith, 2013, “Chipewyan”). The Chipewyan are members of the Northern Athapaskan branch of the Athapaskan language family. Chipewyan inhabit the Central Canadian Subarctic and resided on harsh land with scarce and irregular food sources (Sharp, 2001, “Cultural Summary: Chipewyan”). For hunting purposes, the Chipewyan developed strategic methods to capture caribou. Samuel Hearne, who travelled with the Chipewyan in the late eighteen century, claimed to have seen long lines of brush fences which were used to lure the animals in (McMillan and Yellowhorn 241). Such techniques allowed the Chipewyan to capture caribou in abundance.

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Photo Courtesy of Goldi Productions Ltd.

Chipewyan believe that Thanadelthur, also known as the “Slave Woman”, guided an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company into Chipewyan territory and introduced her countrymen to the Europeans (McCormack and Smith, 2013, “Chipewyan”). This meeting resulted in to the establishment of Prince of Wales Fort which allowed the Chipewyan to engage in fur trade (Ibid).

Generally speaking, Chipewyan were animists – the belief that all entities have a spirit. According to the Chipewyan, animals, spirits, and other animate beings existed in the realm of inkoze. Inkoze is a philosophical framework, a way of thinking and conversing about human knowledge. Humans became aware of inkoze through dreams passed on by animals or spirits (Sharp, 2001, “Cultural Summary: Chipewyan”). One could not claim to have inkoze because it offends the entity that provides knowledge (Sharp, 2001, p.95). Hence, the knowledge keeper finds creative ways of expressing inkoze.