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  • Distribution of Northern Athapaskan groups.  Territories in general are those of the mid-19th century. Adapted from Helm, 1981 in Pride of the Indian Wardrobe, Northern Athapaskan Footwear J. Thompson, 1990
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Distribution of Northern Athapaskan groups. Territories in general are those of the mid-19th century. Adapted from Helm, 1981 in Pride of the Indian Wardrobe, Northern Athapaskan Footwear, J. Thompson, 1990
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Nina Bergman, Kutchin, with daughter Adeline. Old Crow, Yukon Territories, 1930
Glenbow Archives NA-4335-19

The Athapaskan People

Who are the Northern Athapaskans?

“The land, and all it provides for our people, has been the very spirit of the Dene way of life. From the land came our religion ... from the land came our life ... from the land came our powerful medicine ... from the land came our way of life.”
George Blondin, Dene Nation, 1984:93

The Athapaskans, indigenous peoples of the western subarctic regions of North America, speak variants of a language known as Northern Athapaskan. Other Athapaskan-speaking peoples, the Navajo and Apache, live in the American Southwest. Today, many Athapaskans, particularly those who live in Canada’s Northwest Territories, prefer to be known as “Dene,” which in their language means “people.”

Traditionally living in small groups, the Dene were thinly scattered over a vast terrain which stretched almost to Hudson Bay in the east and to the Alaska coast in the west. They were an independent and self-reliant people who for millennia had successfully exploited one of the most difficult environments known to support human life. Survival in a harsh land was made possible by a number of unique adaptations to climate, terrain and natural resources. Clothing was one of these adaptations.