First Peoples of the Glittering Northwest Territories, Canada

This 1970 issue the first bear-shaped plate, made to commemorate the NWT Centennial of founding in 1870.
This 1970 issue the first bear-shaped plate, made to commemorate the NWT Centennial of founding in 1870.

Arctic Circle Territory and Its Diamonds

Some folks cannot imagine living on the Arctic Circle, but over 42,000 individuals live in Canada's Northwest Territories all year long. They enjoy glittering lakes, the Northern Lights, bright snows in the winter, and city lights every night. Canadians know the capital, Yellowknife, as the Diamond of North America, because workers mine diamonds here!

Hearing that the NWT reaches the Arctic Circle, we might imagine a territory including only glacier fields and white expanses that cause daily snow blindness, but we would be incorrect. We might envision lone igloos set up miles apart, full of fur clad families and packed with sled dogs but again, we would be wrong. There are no Eskimo here, but the NWT is home to a few First Peoples that have actual ethnic names like the Dene, the Inuvialuit, and the Metis First Peoples or First Nations. With them live people from over 90 other different countries in the NWT.

A whole new world functions above the United States at the top of Canada, and many Americans know nothing of it. What fun to visit there!

Through the NWT Seniors Society, tribal elders and others in the Arctic Ambassadors program greet travelers at the Yellowknife Airport in order to greet them and give them directions and suggestions for visits.

NWT Diamond Mines

show route and directions
A markerDiavik, Lac de Gras, NWT -
Diavik Airport, Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

B markerEkati NWT -
Ekati Airport (YOA), Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

C markerDe Beers Snap Lake Mine NWT -
Snap Lake Airport, Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

D markerKennady Lake North 63°26′04″N 109°11′10″W -
Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT, Canada
[get directions]

De Beers Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine. Drilling began in 2010.

E markerYellowknife NWT -
Yellowknife, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

Territory Capital and map reference point.

Average Seasonal Temperatures in the NWT

Month
Temperature C
Temperature F
January
-26
-15
July
32.5
91

Canada contains six active diamond mines, four of which are all in the Northwest Territories.

NWT Diamond Centre - Mining History of NWT

NWT Diamond Centre

  • 5105-49th Street, Yellowknife NWT

This cultural center presents the history of two large diamond mines, the Diavik and the DeBeers Snap Lake Mines, both of which are 190 miles north of the city. Diamonds were not discovered in NWT until 1990, but have added much to the local economy, along with mining for other minerals, which has a longer history - this includes gold, now in decline, but also uranium and others.

Mining diamonds in the Arctic is different from mining in South Africa diamond mines. The diamond center shows us some of the local geology of NWT, especially that of diamond containing kimberlite deposits (named for a South African town), along with the technologies needed for mining in the cold weather. The process of extracting rough diamonds and creating polished and cut gems is fascinating as it is explained at this museum.

The newest mine in the area is the DeBeers Gacho Kue and First nations in this area north of Yellowknife filled letters at its inception to request adequate measures of environmental protection be ensured in mining operations. Prime importance is the impact of mining on the local caribou herd, which is a large part of indigenous livelihood (Reference: Northern Journal. Meaghan Wohlberg, August 13, 2013).

The Northwest Territories geology holds at least 150 volcanic kimberlite pipes, which are often home to diamonds. These mineral pipes were recorded by geologists in 1997.

A Few Stops on the Ice Road that Connects Diamond Mines

show route and directions
A markerJericho Diamond Mine 65°59′50″N 111°28′30″W -
Nunavut X0C, Canada
[get directions]

B markerTibbutt Lake NWT - The DeBeers Mines 63°36′20″N 110°52′00″W -
Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT, Canada
[get directions]

C markerPellatt Lake NWT -
Pellatt Lake, Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

D markerDome Lake NWT -
Dome Lake, Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

Maintenance Point

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road is an ice road in NWT that has been featured on Cable TV in Ice Road Truckers.

Diamond Centre and Visitors Center

show route and directions
A markerNWT Diamond Centre 5105-49th Street, Yellowknife NWT -
5105 49 Street, Yellowknife, NT X1A 1P8, Canada
[get directions]

B markerNorthern Frontier Visitors Centre -
Northern Frontier Visitors Ctr, 4807 49 Street, Yellowknife, NT X1A 3T5, Canada
[get directions]

C markerNWT Heritage Center -
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, 4750 48 Street, Yellowknife, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

Tipis and Northern Lights at Aurora Village, Yellowknife

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Notice the white quest tipis in the background,. This is one of the famous tours in southern NWT.Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre: Aboriginal watercraft.
Notice the white quest tipis in the background,. This is one of the famous tours in southern NWT.
Notice the white quest tipis in the background,. This is one of the famous tours in southern NWT. | Source
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre: Aboriginal watercraft.
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre: Aboriginal watercraft. | Source

First Nations of NWT

Canada's agency fo First Nations counts at least 26 Aboriginal Peoples in the NWT.

The First Nations of the Northwest Territories are very well organized in democratic governments in towns that have economic development agencies, cultural and arts institutes, museums, festivals, recreation, and all manner of things found in large cities in Canada and the USA.

Yellowknife is growing. Between 2011 and 2014, the population increased from just over 19,000 to 23,000 individuals.

Certainly not a colony of a few igloos, the NWT is home to people from 90 different countries and has 11 official languages for 43,000 people, compared to the USA's one official language for 319,200,000 (October 20, 2014).

The languages spoken by the First Nations of NWT include Cree, Dene, Inuktitut, and Ojibway, as recorded for the 201 Canadian Census, but other indigenous languages are found in the MWT as well.

Historically, the five separate Tribal Groups in the NWT that signed a treaty with Canada in 1970 were: the Dogrib, Chipewyan, Southern Slavey ("slaves of the Cree"), Northern Slavey and Loucheux. They became the Dene Nation in 1975. The umbrella Dene Peoples in NWT include are named for their language dialects: Akaitcho, Dehcho, Gwitch'in, Sahtu and Tlicho, all of which became official languages of the NWT in 1990.

The Metis People incorporated as an official group in 1972. These are individuals that are have descended largely from intermarriage of Dene Nation peoples and European settlers in the NWT. They are an incorporated First Nation of their own.

Canada 2011 Census of Aboriginals in NWT

Region Number, from North to South
Number of Aboriginals
Total Population in 2011
1
5860
6712
2
1845
2341
3
2735
2812
4
2717
3246
5
3715
6907
6
5595
19,444
Source: Statistics Canada

At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Dene Nation hosted "Dene Nation Day" as part of its people's 40th Year Celebration, 1970 - 2010.

Divisions of Native North Americans or Aboriginals in NWT

Akaitcho Territory Government of First Nations

  • Deninu Kue First Nation - Fort Resolution
  • Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation - Lutselk'e
  • Salt River First Nation Reserve #195 - Fort Smith
  • Smith Landing First Nation - Fort Smith
  • Yellowknives Dene First Nations of Dettah and N'Dilo

Deh Cho People of Eleven Nations and Bands

  1. Fort Providence Deh Gah Gotie Dene Band,
  2. Fort Providence Metis Nation,
  3. Fort Simpson Liidlii Kue First Nation,
  4. Fort Simpson Metis Nation,
  5. West Point First Nation,
  6. Jean Marie River First Nation,
  7. Ka’a'gee Tu First Nation,
  8. Nahanni Butte Dean Band,
  9. Trout Lake's Sambaa K’e Dene Band,
  10. Tulita's Begaa Deh Shuh Tah Got’ie, and
  11. Wrigley's Pehdzeh Ki First Nation.

Dene Nation - Largest Group in NWT

  • Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated - Includes seven Sahtu land corporations four Dene land corporations and three Métis land corporations since June 1994. Its five communities include Collvile Lake, Deline (The Birthplace of Hockey, with a well developed tourism program), Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, and Tulit'a. See more about the Dene Nation further below.
  • Sahtú Dene people are often found to be related to the Hare/Hare-skin and Gwich’in groups living in NWT, Yukon Territories, and Alaska.

Gwich’in Tribal Council in Beaufort Delta, Democratic Govt. Founded 1992

This group is a permanent member of the Arctic Council in partnership with Gwich'in groups in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The Arctic Council is an international group founded in 1996 to promote cooperation among and the rights of Circumpolar Nations around the Arctic Circle (60° N. Latitude). Besides Indigenous Peoples and other northern nations, Canada and the USA are members.

  • Gwichya Gwich'in Council - Tsiigehtchic
  • Tetlit Gwich'in Council - Fort McPherson, miles above the Arctic Circle and near the Yukon Border.
  • Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council - Aklavik, Mackenzie Delta
  • Nihtat Gwich'in Council - Inuvik, Makenzie River

Tlicho Government - See The Tlicho History Project, 1921 - Present: http://tlichohistory.com/learn/

  • Behchokǫ̀ - Located in Rae and Edzo (Rae's suburb)

Accessible only by air except for months in which an ice road functions well and connects with Highway 3:

  • Gamètì
  • Wekweètì
  • Whatì

Inuvialuit, Inuit Region

  • Paulatuk
  • Sachs Harbour
  • Tuktoyaktuk
  • Ulukhaktok

Additional First Nations

  • Enterprise community
  • North Slavey (also location of the Hare-skin People) and South Slavey Métis Alliances
  • Katl'odeeche First Nation or Hay River Dene Reserve

Aboriginal Communities

On the map below, notice that a few communities are far above the Arctic Circle, while most others are in the southern region. The large Dene community in Deline is between the clusters and still above the Arctic Circle.

The many forts were small communities and trading posts in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Some Aboriginal Communities in the NWT

show route and directions
A markerAkaitcho NWT -
Akaitcho Bay, Fort Smith, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

B markerFort Resolution -
Fort Resolution, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

C markerFort McPherson NWT -
Fort McPherson, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

D markerFort Simpson -
Fort Simpson, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

E markerFort Providence -
Fort Providence, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

F markerFort Smith NWT -
Fort Smith, NT, Canada
[get directions]

G markerTsiigehtchic -
Tsiigehtchic, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

H markerRae NWT -
Rae, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

I markerDeline NWT -
Déline, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

Located on Great Bear Lake, with many tourist opportunities.

J markerInuvik NWT -
Inuvik, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

Inuit and Qwich'in populations predominate.

Deline, NWT in winter, on the banks of Great Bear Lake.
Deline, NWT in winter, on the banks of Great Bear Lake. | Source

The Dene Nation at Deline NWT and the Northwest Passage

Deline is pronounced "day (long a) - li (short i) - neh."

Deline officially claims the invention of the Canadian National Sport of Hockey. It is also home to the biggest lake trouts in the world, and is also the only community on the western shore of Great Bear Lake (see the accompanying map), named for Nanook. Air access is the only option for traveling to and from Deline, so airports are well maintained.

Deline is a community of Sahtu Dene and Metis Nation Peoples who speak a North Slavey language or dialect of the Dene language, along with English.They operate many travel related business and enjoy having visitors from all over the world.

Hockey Invented Out of Boredom

It is well known that during the winter of 1825 - 1826, above the Arctic Circle in Deline, Sir John Franklin and his crew searched for the Northwest Passage. Today, enough ice has melted that the passages are visible and used by freighters.

The Franklin crew stayed the winter among the Aboriginals at a Hudson’s Bay outpost called Fort Franklin for his good will toward the peoples in NWT. His men had brought ice skates with them and had always loved field hockey. Thus, the Franklin crew combined the two on the thick ice of an Arctic winter, not realizing that they were making history.

Today's Dene People say this about that event:

“The elders we knew . . . they didn’t say 'hockey' or 'skating' - they didn’t know what it was. But they said they saw these guys flying across the ice like they were floating. That’s how they would express it,” -- Morris Neyelle, Elder of the Dene in Deline. (Reference: http://destinationdeline.com/deline-northwest-territories-canada/)

B. Dene Adventures is a Traditional Dene Cultural Camp business which teaches the Dene way of life, with many package and day-tours available - fishing, Aurora Borealis viewing, etc.

Deline , the Only Village on Great Bear Lake

show route and directions
A markerDeline NWT -
Déline, NT X0E, Canada
[get directions]

B markerGreat Bear Lake, Canada -
Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories X0E, Canada
[get directions]

The Inuit People have lived in Siberia, Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland and Iceland (where Inuit DNA of the past was recently found).

Inuits in NWT and Nunavut and Nanook the Bear

Inuit Peoples live in parts of NWT that extend into the next territory to the east, Nunavut. Most live more modern lives that their ancestors did in the time of igloo communities, but plenty of snowshoes, sled dogs, and hunting can still be seen.

The Inuit population is larger in Nunavut than in NWT, but in this far north region, most of the population is Aboriginal.

Filmmakers made Nanook of the North in the early 1020s as a documentary of Inuit lives. It was not totally a reality film, but actors were Inuits and scenes that were staged gave an accurate view of general life. A cutaway igloo, for example, was a very good idea for showing the inside of a dwelling.

Nanook the Great Bear

Nanook is a founding power animal in the history of the people of the far Canadian north. The bear needed to give permission for hunters to slay bears for their livelihood. This included food, clothing, blankets, and trade. Each approved hunter was worthy - a good steward of nature.

The Great Bear can be seen in indigenous artworks, as it can in Western Canada on carved cedar poles and in paintings on longhouses. The poles are considered people that are telling stories from the beginning of each clan's founding. The Great Bear Nanook is a founder of the people in the far north of Canada.

Cultural Anthropology and Entertainment in the World's First Documentary

Nanook of the North (The Criterion Collection)
Nanook of the North (The Criterion Collection)

This is the Director's Cut. In this tremendous 1922 silent film documentary, the Inuit hunter Nanook and his family survive the harsh winter conditions of Canada's Hudson Bay area. The director employed Inuit actors who were descendants of the ancient people who lived their lives in the outdoors near the Arctic Circle and who themselves continued to live there.

 

In 1989, "Nanook of the North" was one of the first films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It was declared "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Additional References

  • Alison K. Brown. First Nations, Museums, Narrations: Stories of the 1929 Franklin Motor Expedition to the Canadian Prairies. UBC Press. 2014.
  • Helen Dwyer and ‎Michael Burgan. Inuit History and Culture. Gareth Stevens Publishing. 2012
  • Historical Canada: The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • Bruce W. Hodgins and ‎Gwyneth Hoyle. Canoeing North Into the Unknown: A Record of River Travel, 1874 to 1974. Dundurn Press. 1997
  • Ordinances of the Northwest Territories, Canada. 1898.
  • Perseus Books Group. First Nations in the Northwest Territories. 2010

More by this Author


Comments 19 comments

Zackary Lynch profile image

Zackary Lynch 2 years ago from Southern Oregon

Canada is such an amazing place. As an American I'm almost jealous. I think Canada got the best part of North America. Great article I enjoyed the read!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

It is gorgeous almost everywhere up there. It is hard not to consider moving, but they have some immigration limits like ours, unfortunately.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Wonderful article about a most fascinating place. I am intrigued with the name Dene -- is it somehow related to Dineh?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@EricDirker - The Navajo language is indeed part of the Athabaskan group that includes many of the Dene people, Tlingit and Eyak. Some linguists feel the Athabaskan group is also connected to languages of Central Siberia. Small world.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

That is so cool Patty, thank you for such fascinating insights.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@Ericdierker - I am very much happy that you enjoy this material! It is still surprising to see how much good organization is occurring among the First Nations and all around Yellowknife in the NWT. Cold weather does not seem to stop anyone there.


Richard1988 profile image

Richard1988 2 years ago from Hampshire - England

A very well put together hub which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I have long wanted to trek in the northern fringes of the boreal forests and hope that one day I will have the time to make the trip a reality. People truly are amazing in what they adapt to live in and you capture that nicely here. Thanks for writing!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Hi Patty. You have put together an interesting and very informational hub. I can tell a lot of work/research went into this and I really enjoyed reading it. I have learned some new things. Well done! Voted up and H+


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@Phyllis Doyle - It helps to have had friends who moved from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island to Alaska and then the Territories over the years! I appreciate your visit and am still remembering your good Hub on Robert Service. A whole separate world exists in the Far North.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@Richard1988 - How exciting that you want to visit above the Arctic Circle! I hope you enjoy your time there when you have the chance to go.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

What a fascinating read. How lucky were the First Nations to be in Canada and not the US (considering how the Indians were treated throughout history).

I've watched the trukers delivering their loads on treacherous winter roads, I have enough trouble here in NY!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@tillsontitan - Thanks for the great comment and votes! The ice road looks very dangerous to me, from those broadcasts.

Unfortunately, many of the First Nations were maltreated in Canada as well as in the US, especially in being beaten and disallowed to speak their own languages in the residential boarding schools, being forbidden to make totem poles and hold celebrations for several decades before the mid-1950s, etc. Some traveled back and forth across the Canadian-US border before they were allowed to settle anywhere. But, as the peoples made land claims under new laws, many received independent government status. Then we began seeing big improvements and bigger successes. More progress than in the US, I think.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

New and interesting information for me about the Northwest Territories. I imagine that the activities are as unique as some names of places. Lots to imagine, in fact. Thank you for this excellent piece.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A very interesting and well-researched hub. I learned more from you on this topic.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Very interesting article. I am surprised about the sled dogs. They are too expensive to keep in Alaska for most people.

I have no idea diamonds were being mined, fascinating. Voted up and interesting.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Without running off to look for reference books I have read, I believe Shackleton's expeditions to this area. Now as for diamond mines this really surprises me. The area does not to my uneducated mind have the right kind of geography; so again stopping by your presentation has taught me something.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

Diamonds in Canada do sound incredible, but they are reportedly of high quality and sell well, even at comparatively expensive prices. I only want to SEE one.

I recall that Shackleton died before he made it to NWT, but went to the Antarctic three (?) times; his ship called Endurance must be the inspiration for naming the space station/ship Endurance in "Interstellar." The space crew finds an astronaut-madman on a frozen planet -- Nice tip of the hat to Shackleton, imo, but I wonder how many viewers will catch that? It's a powerful film.

To me, NWT looks uninhabitable, but not so. I am amazed.


PurvisBobbi44 profile image

PurvisBobbi44 22 months ago from Florida

Hi,

I enjoyed learning and refreshing my memory about Canada and the Northern Territories. I wish I could visit with my cameras and interview some of the people---that would be exciting.

Thanks for always writing such great hubs. I will share this with Twitter, put on my re-pin board at Pinterest and share with H+.

Bobbi Purvis


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 22 months ago from North America Author

That's kind of you to share this Hub, PurvisBobbi44. I'm fascinated with Canada and the northern peoples.

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