This blog is part of our Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada series. To read this blog post in Denesųłiné, visit the e-book.
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By Angela Code
The Dene (also known as Athabascan, Athabaskan, Athapascan or Athapaskan peoples) are among the largest group of Indigenous peoples in North America. Their traditional territories expand all along the northern and western regions of the continent, covering a total area of about 4,022,000 square kilometres. There are approximately 48 distinct Dene languages and various dialects. Dene, Eyak and Tlingit are subdivisions under the Na-Dene Language Family. Haida was also considered to be a part of this language family, but it is now determined to be a language isolate (not connected to other languages). In 2008, a number of linguists supported a proposal connecting Na-Dene to the Yeniseian languages of central Siberia, which further broadens the language family into Na Dene-Yeniseian.
Dene languages are categorized into three groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern.
The Northern Dene language group ranges across Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There are 32 Northern Dene languages: Holikachuk, Ingalik (Degxit’an/Deg Hit’an), Upper Kuskokwim, Koyukon, Tanaina (Dennina/Dena’ina), Ahtna, Tannacross, Upper Tanana, Middle Tanana, Lower Tanana, Gwich’in (Kutchin/Loucheaux), Hän, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Kaska, Tagish, Tahltan, Sekani (Tsek’ene), Beaver, Dakelth (Carrier), Shutah (Mountain), Bearlake, Hare, Tłįchǫ Yatiì (Dogrib), Northern Slavey, Southern Slavey, Dëne Sųłiné (Chipewyan), Babine-Witsuwit’en, Tŝilhqot’in (Chilcotin), Nicola, Tsetsaut and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee).
There are nine Pacific Coast Dene languages, originating in Washington, Oregon and northern California. These languages comprise Hupa (Hoopa Chilula), Mattole–Bear River, Wailaki (Eel River), Cahto, Upper Umpqua (Etnemitane), Lower Rogue River (Tututni/Coquille), Upper Rogue River (Galice-Applegate), Tolowa and Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (Willapa).
There are seven Southern Dene languages spoken in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and northwestern Mexico. These languages are Navajo, Western Apache, Plains Apache, Lipan, Jicarilla, Chiricahua and Mescalero.
- The Dene–Yeniseian Connection. 1–24, vol. 5. by James Kari adn Ben A. Potter
- Dene-Yeniseian Symposium, Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
- The Athabaskans: People of the Boreal Forest Ts’ibaa Laalta Hul’aanaby by Richard K. Nelson
- Drum Songs: Glimpses of Dene History by Kerry M. Abel
- LAC Blog: The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi
Angela Code worked as an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.