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Beaver Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Beaver tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Beaver website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Beaver pictures and links we believe are suitable for any age level.

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    Beaver Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Beaver"? What does it mean?
Beaver is pronounced exactly like the English word. This is an English translation of one of their tribal names, Tsattine, which means "beaver people." In their own language they call themselves Dane or Dunne, which means the people, but since many different Athabascan languages share similar words, they often call themselves Dane-Zaa or Beaver Dene to differentiate themselves from their kinfolk.

Where do the Beavers live?
The Beaver Indians are original people of British Columbia and Alberta, in western Canada. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Beaver lands.

How is the Beaver Indian nation organized?
The Beaver First Nation in Canada is organized into independent bands. Each band has its own reserve, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. Beaver bands have their own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Beavers are also Canadian citizens and must obey Canadian law.

In the past, each Beaver band was governed by a chief. The Beaver chief was chosen by clan leaders, usually on the basis of his leadership skills or medicine power and his family's prestige. Today, Beaver bands are governed by elected tribal councils.

How many Beaver people are there today?
The combined population of the Beaver bands is 1400. However, in reality there are more people of Beaver heritage than this, because those numbers leave out people from Beaver families who have intermarried into other First Nations and Beaver people who are not enrolled with any band office. Our Beaver volunteer believes the total Dane-zaa population is actually closer to 2000.

What language do the Beaver Indians speak?
Beaver people speak English today, but some Beavers, especially elders, also speak their native Beaver language. Beaver is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Beaver word, "wuujǫ'" (sounds similar to woo-joan) means "it is good" in Beaver. You can also read a Beaver picture dictionary here.

Today Beaver is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Beaver people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Beaver culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to a Dane-zaa cultural project.
There you can find information about the Beaver people in the past and today.

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How do Beaver Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Beaver children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. One popular activity was the hoop game, where Beaver children competed against each other to throw darts through rolling hoops. Another was the hand game, where they tried to guess whether a token was hidden in an opponent's left or right hand. Beaver mothers traditionally carried their babies on their backs, using a type of moosehide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place. Here is a picture of an Athabaskan woman carrying a baby this way.

What were the roles of men and women in the Beaver tribe?
Beaver men were hunters and fishermen, and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Beaver women were craftspeople, making clothing, baskets, and tools for the community to use or trade with other tribes. Both male and female Dane-zaa people took part in storytelling, music, and traditional medicine. In the past, chiefs in Athabaskan tribes like the Dane-zaa were always male, but today a woman can be chief too.

What were Beaver homes like in the past?
The Beaver people lived in large hide tents called tipis (or tepees). The Beaver people were semi-nomadic, meaning that they usually dwelled within the same general area but moved the locations of their villages frequently to follow caribou herds and other food sources. Since a tipi was designed to set up and break down quickly, Beaver communities could migrate easily. In winter, when the Beavers did less traveling, they sometimes stayed in warmer and more permanent earth lodges, which were made from wooden logs packed with layers of earth to insulate them. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee or a lodge for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Beaver families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Beaver clothing like? Did they wear a feather headdress and face paint?
Beaver men and women wore very similar clothing: a caribou or moose-skin tunic shirt, knee-length pants, and high moccasin boots. In cold weather they added mittens, long coats or blanket robes, and fur hoods. All of these clothing articles were frequently decorated with colorful beadwork in floral patterns. In winter, Beaver people sometimes wore a one-piece combination of boots and trousers to keep out the snow. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about traditional Native costume in general.

The Beavers didn't wear feather headdresses like the Sioux. Normally they wore fur hoods or caps. Beaver chiefs and male clan leaders would sometimes wear a special hat made from buffalo fur with the horns attached. The Beavers painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and often wore tribal tattoo designs. Both men and women usually wore their hair long, sometimes pulled into a ponytail with a beaded hair ornament.

Today, some Beaver people still wear moccasins or traditional beadwork designs, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of hide trousers... and they only wear fancy regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Beaver transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Beavers sometimes used bark canoes to travel by river. Most of the time, though, their travels were over land, and they used toboggan sleds to transport their possessions as they moved from place to place. These toboggans could be pulled either by Beaver people or by dogsled teams. Since Beaver territory is so far north, there is usually snow on the ground. Beaver people used snowshoes when they were hunting or traveling, so they could more quickly move across snowy terrain. Today, of course, Beaver people also use cars... and non-native people also use snowshoes and canoes.

What did Beaver people eat in the days before supermarkets?
The Beaver Indians were big game hunters. Beaver men worked in teams to hunt large animals such as caribou, moose, and buffalo. They also set traps for smaller animals like beavers and rabbits, and sometimes caught fish in the rivers and lakes. Beaver women gathered roots, berries, and other plants to add to their diet. Here is a website with more information about Indian food.

What were Beaver weapons and tools like in the past?
Beaver hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. In war, Beaver men fired their bows or fought with spears. Here is a website with pictures and information about Indian weapon types.

What are Beaver arts and crafts like?
Beaver artists were known for birchbark baskets and porcupine quillwork. Today, beadwork is more common than quillwork, but the same traditional designs are still used. Here is an online photo gallery of Alaskan Athabaskan artwork, which is very similar to the art style of the Dane-zaa.

What is Beaver music like?
The most important Beaver instrument is the drum. Northern Athabaskan people usually play small hand-held drums instead of large communal drums like Plains Indian people. Here is a video of the Doig River Drummers performing a traditional song.

What other Native Americans did the Beaver tribe interact with?
The Beavers traded regularly with neighboring Athapaskan tribes. They were particularly friendly with the Chipewyan, with whom they sometimes intermarried. The Beavers sometimes fought with the Sekani and Cree, but at other times these tribes were peaceful trade partners.

What kinds of stories do the Beaver Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Beaver legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Beaver Indian culture. Here is one Beaver legend about a man who turned into a moose. Here's a website where you can read more about Beaver mythology.

What about Beaver religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Beaver life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Beaver people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Athabascan spiritual belief or this site about Indian religion in general.

Can you give me some ideas for good books to read about the Beavers?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Beaver tribe. You may enjoy Come and Learn with Me, an excellent book for kids about the life of a contemporary Slavey girl. The Slavey culture is very similar to the Beaver culture. For older readers, we can recommend Where Happiness Dwells and When You Sing It Now, Just Like New, two interesting books about the Beaver culture and worldview. Younger kids might like The Girl Who Swam With The Fish, a picture book based on an Athabascan legend. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if a book is sold through these links. Most of them can also be found for free in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Beaver Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Beaver Tribe

Beaver Indian Tribe
An overview of the Dunne Za/Beaver people, their language and history.

Beaver Language Resources
Beaver Indian language lessons, articles, and worksheets.

Beaver Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Beaver Native Americans past and present.

Beaver Indian Words
Beaver Indian vocabulary lists.

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Return to our Native encylopedia definitions

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