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Yellowknife Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Yellowknife Tribe

Where does the word "Yellowknife" come from?
It is a reference to the copper weapons and tools traditionally used by the Yellowknife people. Their name for themselves in their own language, T'atsaot'ine, also means "Copper People." The Yellowknives were known for mining the copper deposits within their territory, and also for trading copper implements with the neighboring tribes.

Where do the Yellowknives live?
The Yellowknife Indians are original people of the Northwest Territories, in northern Canada. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Yellowknife lands.

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

In the past, each Yellowknife band was governed by a chief or headman. The Yellowknife chief was chosen by clan leaders, usually on the basis of his leadership skills or medicine power and his family's prestige. Today, the Yellowknife nation is governed by an elected tribal council.

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

Today, the population of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation also includes many families from a different Native American group called the Dogrib, so some Yellowknife tribal members speak that language as well. Dogrib and Dene are related to each other but not the same, similar to Spanish and Italian.

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

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

What were Yellowknife homes like in the past?
Yellowknife people lived in hide tents called tipis (or tepees). Yellowknife communities used to move the locations of their villages periodically to follow caribou herds and other food sources. Since a tipi was designed to set up and break down quickly, Yellowknife communities could migrate easily. Some tipis were large and housed a whole family. Other tipis had only two long poles, more like a lean-to, and were used as temporary shelter on hunting trips 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 Yellowknife clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Yellowknife men and women wore very similar clothing: a hide tunic with trousers or leggings. Like most Native Americans, Yellowknife people wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with mocasin pictures. 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 Yellowknives didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Some Yellowknife women wore headbands, but men usually went bare-headed unless it was cold enough for a fur hat. Both men and women usually kept their hair long. The Yellowknives painted their faces for ceremonial occasions, but not in daily life. They did often wear traditional tribal tattoos on their faces.

Today, some Yellowknife 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 Yellowknife transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Yellowknifes used birchbark canoes to navigate the rivers. Here is an article about Native canoes. Overland, Yellowknife people used snowshoes and sleds to travel across the snow, and dogs to help them carry their belongings. Today, of course, Yellowknife people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

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

What were Yellowknife weapons and tools like in the past?
Yellowknife hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. Fishermen used nets and basket traps. In war, Yellowknife men fired their bows or fought with war clubs. The Yellowknife tribe was particularly known for their use of copper to make knives, arrowheads, pots, and other tools. Here is a website with pictures and information about indigenous weapons of the Americas.

What are Yellowknife arts and crafts like?
Yellowknife artists are known for their fine bead art. Here is an online photo gallery of Athabascan artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Yellowknife tribe interact with?
The Yellowknives traded regularly with neighboring Athabaskan tribes. Their closest allies were the Chipewyans, who spoke the same Dene language the Yellowknives did and sometimes intermarried with them. The Yellowknives often fought wars against the neighboring Dogrib tribe, but at other times these two tribes could be friendly as well. Today people from all three of these tribes are living together on the Yellowknives Dene reservation.

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

What about Yellowknife religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Yellowknife life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Yellowknife 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 Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
Two interesting 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. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended books about Native Americans in general. 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 get more information about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

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

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Learn More About The Yellowknife Tribe

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

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

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

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