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Kaska Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Kaska Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Kaska"? What does it mean?
Kaska is pronounced "kah-skah." It is not clear what the origin of this name was. It may have come from a Tahltan name for their tribe meaning "old moccasins," or it may have been an English corruption of a native place name. In their own language they call themselves Dena, which means "the people." Since many different Athabascan languages share a similar word, they often refer to themselves as Kaska Dena to differentiate themselves from their kinfolk.

Where do the Kaskas live?
The Kaska Indians are original people of northwestern Canada, particularly British Columbia and the Yukon. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Kaska lands.

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

In the past, each Kaska band was governed by a headman, or village chief. The headman was always male, and was chosen by clan leaders, usually on the basis of his leadership skills or medicine power and his family's prestige. Today, Kaska bands are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Kaska Indians speak?
Kaska people speak English today, but some Kaskas, especially elders, also speak their native Kaska language. Kaska is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Kaska word, "Soga senla'" (sounds similar to soh-gah sen-lah) means "thank you" in Kaska. You can also read a Kaska picture dictionary here.

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

What was Kaska culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Kaska Dena Council. There you can find information about the Kaskas in the past and today.

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How do Kaska 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 Kaska 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. Kaska mothers traditionally carried their babies in bags on their backs, using a decorated hide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place.

What were Kaska homes like in the past?
The Kaskas lived in earth houses. Athabaskan earth houses were made by digging an underground chamber, surrounding it with poles and brush, and then packing the whole structure in layers of earth to insulate it. Since Kaska houses were partially underground, they were often larger than they appeared. Many of these houses had multiple rooms and could provide shelter for several families. Here are some pictures of an earth house like the ones Kaska Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Kaska people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Kaska clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Kaska men and women wore very similar clothing: a caribou-skin tunic, trousers or leggings, and mocassins. In winter, Kaska people sometimes wore a one-piece combination of boots and trousers to keep out the snow. In cold weather they added mittens and fur cloaks. 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 traditional Indian clothes in general.

The Kaskas didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux tribe. Sometimes men would wear fur caps with feathers at the crown. The Kaskas did not usually paint their faces. Both men and women wore shell and bead jewelry, and wore their hair long.

Today, some Kaska people still wear 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 Kaska transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Kaskas used dugout or hide canoes to navigate the rivers. Here is an article about Native American Indian canoes. Overland, Kaska people used tools like snowshoes and toboggans to travel across snow. Today, of course, Kaska people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

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

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

What are Kaska arts and crafts like?
Like other Athabaskan peoples, Kaska artists are known for their bead and quill art. Here is an online photo gallery of Kaska artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Kaska tribe interact with?
The Kaskas traded often with neighboring Athabaskan tribes, especially the Tahltan. Sometimes they fought with other tribes such as the Tlingit Indians, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

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

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Kaska 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 Kaska culture. Older readers might want to try reading Kaska Tales, a collection of Kaska Indian folklore. 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 Native American stories for kids. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found 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 Kaska Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Kaska Tribe

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

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

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

Kaska Indian Words
Kaska Indian vocabulary lists.

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