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Slavey Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Slavey Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Slavey"? What does it mean?
Slavey is pronounced "slay-vee." Sometimes you will see it spelled a different way, such as Slavé. There is disagreement about the origin of this word. Most scholars believe it comes from the English word "slave," based on a northern Cree habit of capturing Slavey women. Many Crees reject this explanation, however, and some Slavey people believe the name originally came from a French corruption of a native place name that resembled the French word esclave. The people's name for themselves in their own language is Dene, which means the people, but since many different Athabascan languages share this word, they often call themselves Dene Tha, Dehcho Dene, or Slavey Dene to differentiate themselves from their kinfolk.

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

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

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

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

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

What was Slavey culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Dehcho First Nations homepage.
There you can find information about the Slaveys in the past and today.

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How do Slavey 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 Slavey 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. Slavey mothers traditionally carried their babies in moosehide bags attached to cradleboards.

What were Slavey homes like in the past?
The Slaveys lived in villages of small earth houses. An earth house was made of a cone-shaped wooden frame packed with earth and moss to insulate it. In the summer, as Slavey people moved from place to place more often to follow the caribou and other food sources, they would build temporary brush houses for shelter as they travelled. Here are some pictures of Native earth lodges and brush shelters like the ones Slavey Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Slavey people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Slavey clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Slavey men and women wore very similar clothing: a moosehide tunic with trousers or leggings. Slavey people wore moccasins on their feet. In some communities they sewed their moccasins directly to their pant legs to keep out the snow. In cold weather they added mittens, long robes, and fur hats. All of these clothing articles were frequently decorated with fringes and colorful beadwork in floral patterns. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about Native American Indian clothing in general.

The Slaveys didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. In some communities women wore basket caps on their heads. The Slaveys rarely painted their faces, but men wore tribal tattoos on their faces. Both men and women usually kept their hair long.

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

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

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

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

What other Native Americans did the Slavey tribe interact with?
The Slaveys traded regularly with neighboring Athabaskan tribes. Their closest ally has historically been the Dogrib tribe. The Dogribs and Slaveys sometimes helped each other out in times of famine. They sometimes fought with the Kaska and Cree, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

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

What about Slavey 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 Native religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Come and Learn with Me an excellent book for kids about the life of a contemporary Slavey girl. For older readers, we can recommend Ways of Knowing, an interesting book about the Slavey 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 books about Native Americans 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 Slavey Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Slavey Tribe

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

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

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

Slavey Indian Words
Slavey Indian vocabulary lists.

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Return to our Indian languages list

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