Relationships with Neighboring People

The Inuit

The neighboring populations to the north and the east of the Athapaskan territory are Inuit. In certain cases their hunting grounds can overlap, especially with the interior Inuit whose primary means of support is also caribou. Ethnography has often recorded the hostile relations between the Inuit of the western Hudson Bay and the Dene. The great frequency of these testimonies of conflict can no doubt be explained by the fact that they reflect particularly striking events in the collective memory of both populations. However, peaceful encounters also took place and relationships of an economic nature could bind the protagonists. These encounters could either be fortuitous or voluntary. In the case of the latter, it concerned mostly individuals who knew each other personally. Meetings could also be organized in order to exchange goods (such as snowshoes, dogs, and clothing), and sometimes the Dene even acted as brokers for the Inuit in the fur trade. Certain elements, such as knowledge of the Inuit language on the part of Dene individuals or knowledge of an Athapaskan language on the part of Inuk, or meetings that followed a precise ritual, lead us to believe that these types of encounters took place on a regular basis. They could even be fairly long-lasting as camp grounds could be set up near one another for a long period of time, even an entire season. During these periods of contact, songs, dances, games, techniques, as well as goods were exchanged and transmitted. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the quality and intensity of these relations varied according to the populations. Thus, for instance, it appears that the Paalarmiut generally maintained poorer relations with the Dene than the Ahiarmiut.

The question of whether these peaceful relationships between different groups fostered an exchange of individuals other than through abductions (through marriages or adoptions for example) remains to be clearly determined. A few isolated cases are reported, but it seems almost certain that the establishment of kinship networks between both populations was not a common practice, although not a nonexistent one.

The Métis

Relations between the Métis and the Athapaskans vary according to place. Cultural and social distinctions can be observed, sometimes extremely pronounced, sometimes insignificant. The Métis had to choose, when signing Treaty 11 in 1921, between being considered Indians and acquiring that status as defined by the Indian Act, or obtaining a status of their own that materialized in the form of a "Métis certificate." Yet the majority of the Métis on Dene territory are of Euro-Dene origin. Today, Athapaskans and Dene live together in various communities.

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