Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Dene Villages of the Upper Churchill

Bike parade on Canada Day in La Loche

The Dene spent the winters in caribou hunting camps north of the Clearwater River and returned every summer to the lakes south of the Clearwater. On Lac La Loche, Garson Lake, Turnor Lake, Peter Pond Lake, Churchill Lake and Lac Ile a la Crosse many Dene summer camps became permanent settlements. La Loche was 
one of these summer camps.

The Upper Churchill River has been home to the Dene for centuries.

An early mention of Dene occupation was by the fur trader Alexander Henry 
in 1776 on his journey to Ile a la Crosse lake. He encountered Dene travelling near there. Six years later in 1782 smallpox  reached Portage La Loche and 
its residents.
In 1808 (according to Daniel Harmon the explorer) a small band of Dene were camped at Portage La Loche. Harmon also states that in 1808 the Dene traded in Ile a la Crosse in considerable numbers.
In 1820 Sir George Back arrives at Lac La Loche House and speaks to the Dene living on the lake. Later in 1822 Back's group stopped at houses on the lake. They embarked a man in each canoe.
Father Thibault wrote of encountering 80 Dene families at Ile a la Crosse in 1845. A large number of Dene were also at Portage La Loche during his visit of 1845.
La Loche on Canada Day
Rosaline Lemaigre

In 1849 Dene encamped at the present site of Buffalo Narrows traded in
Ile a la Crosse. John Macoun in 1877 writes of the settlement of 
Chipewyan House where Buffalo Narrows is now located. 
The Dene there lived in houses as they did in La Loche and Garson Lake.

 The Clearwater River Dene Nation, the Buffalo River Dene Nation (Dillon), the English River Dene Nation
and the Birch Narrows Dene Nation are all located in the Upper Churchill River region.

Dene is also spoken in the communities of La Loche, Garson Lake, Descharme Lake, Black Point, Turnor Lake, Bear Creek, Patuanak, St. George's Hill and Michel Village.

In 1825 the HBC counted 469 Dene in the English River District.
In 1838 the HBC counted 489 Dene in the English River District.
In 1881 Census Canada counted 531 in the English River District.

The English River District included the Upper Churchill River area
where most of the Dene population of the District were living.

La Loche 2006

La Loche was the largest community in the Upper Churchill with 2348 people in 2006. 
It had the largest Dene population in Canada with over 2200 people.
90% of the Dene population speak the Dene language.
The Dene Language in Canada

The Dene residents of  La Loche and the other villages above speak the "Dene Suline" language also called
the Chipewyan language or  the Dene language. 

The total number of Dene Suline speakers in Canada appears to be 11,895 people. 
Of this number 24 %,  about 2900 people, live on Lac La Loche in the villages of La Loche, Black Point 
and the Clearwater River Dene Nation.

The Chipewyan Prairie Dene Nation has three reserves in Alberta at the village of Janvier, at Cowper Lake 
and Winefred Lake. They have 300 members. They came originally from Garson Lake and La Loche. 
They were once was part of the Mission of Portage La Loche and were visited by the priest of La Loche. 

The Cold Lake First Nation in LeGoff, English Bay and Cold Lake Alberta has 2000 members. 
Most members are Dene.