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Chipewyan Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Chipewyan Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Chipewyan"? What does it mean?
Chipewyan is pronounced "chip-uh-why-un." This word comes from their name in the language of their Cree neigbors, and means "pointed skins" (referring to their distinctive pointed tunics.) Their name for themselves in their own language is Denesuline or Dene Suline, which means "people of the barrens," but some of them refer to themselves as Chipewyan as well. Just Dene, "the people," is often used, although that name is also used by other tribes who speak similar languages and can sometimes be confusing as a result.

Where do the Chipewyans live?
The Chipewyan Indians are original people of northern Canada, especially the Northwest Territories, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

How is the Chipewyan Indian nation organized?
The Chipewyan 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. Chipewyan bands have their own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Chipewyans are also Canadian citizens and must obey Canadian law.

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

What language do the Chipewyan Indians speak?
Chipewyan people speak English today, but many Chipewyans also speak their native Chipewyan language. Chipewyan is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Chipewyan word, "edląnet'e'" (sounds similar to ed-lah-net-ay) is a friendly greeting in Chipewyan. You can also read a Chipewyan picture dictionary here.

What was Chipewyan culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. There you can find information about the Chipewyans in the past and today.

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How do Chipewyan 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 Chipewyan 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. Chipewyan mothers traditionally carried their babies on their backs, using a moosehide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place.

What were Chipewyan homes like in the past?
Most Chipewyan people lived in large hide tents called tipis (or tepees). Chipewyan communities used to move 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, Chipewyan communities could migrate easily. In winter, when the Chipewyan did less traveling, they sometimes stayed in warmer and more permanent earth lodges, which were made from wooden logs packed with layers of earth. Other Chipewyan people lived in teepees year-round, packing snow around the tepee's base to provide extra insulation. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage. Chipewyan people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Chipewyan clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Chipewyan men wore a breechloth with leggings. In colder weather they would also wear a belted caribou-skin tunic with pointed flaps. In some communities women wore tunics and leggings similar to the men's, while in others, they wore long dresses. Chipewyan people wore moccasins on their feet. In winter they added mittens, fur caps, and robes or long coats. All of these clothing articles were frequently decorated with colorful beadwork in floral patterns. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about Native American clothing in general.

The Chipewyans didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Normally they wore fur headbands or went bare-headed. The Chipewyans painted their faces for ceremonial occasions, but not in daily life. They did wear tribal tattoos on their faces. Both men and women usually wore their hair long. Unlike most other Athabascans, Chipewyan men sometimes grew out their beards.

Today, some Chipewyan people still wear traditional beadwork designs, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of leggings... and they only wear fancy regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Chipewyan transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Chipewyans used moose-hide or birchbark canoes to navigate the rivers. Here is an article about Indian boats. Overland, Chipewyan people used tools like snowshoes and toboggans to travel across the snow. Today, of course, Chipewyan people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

What was Chipewyan food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Chipewyan Indians were hunting people. Chipewyan men hunted caribou, moose, and small game, and caught salmon and other fish in the rivers. Chipewyan women gathered roots, berries, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Chipewyan weapons and tools like in the past?
Chipewyan hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. Fishermen used nets and basket traps. In war, Chipewyan men fired their bows or fought with war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and information about Indian weapons.

What are Chipewyan arts and crafts like?
Chipewyan artists are known for their fine basketry and beadwork. Here is an online photo gallery of Athabascan artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Chipewyan tribe interact with?
The Chipewyans traded regularly with neighboring tribes. They were particularly friendly with the Beavers, with whom they sometimes intermarried. They sometimes fought with the Cree and Inuit people, although they were peaceful trading partners at other times.

What kinds of stories do the Chipewyan Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Chipewyan legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Chipewyan Indian culture. Here is one Chipewyan legend about the Sun's promise to the people. Here's a website where you can read more about Chipewyan mythology.

What about Chipewyan religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Athabascan spiritual beliefs or this site about Indian religious beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
Two great illustrated books for kids about contemporary Dene life are The Caribou Feed Our Soul and Fort Chipewyan Homecoming. Older readers may be interested in Northern Passage, an excellent ethnography of the Dene. Younger kids might like The Girl Who Swam With The Fish, a picture book based on an Athabascan legend. For more basic information about Chipewyan culture and history, two good sources are Denesuline and The Chipewyan. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

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 2015.

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

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Learn More About The Chipewyan Tribe

Chipewyan Indian Tribe
An overview of the Chipewyan people, their language and history.

Chipewyan Language Resources
Chipewyan Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

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

Chipewyan Indian Words
Chipewyan Indian vocabulary lists.

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