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The Dunne-za (ᑕᓀᖚ, also spelled Dane-zaa, or Tsattine - "Those who live among the beaver", and historically often referred to as the Beaver tribe by Europeans) are a First Nations people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group. Their traditional territory is around the Peace River of the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. About 1,000 Dane-zaa are living today in British Columbia and perhaps half speak the Danezaa language, and around 2,000 live in Alberta.
In this article, the spelling Dane-zaa is typically used for “the Real People” (this is the spelling used by the Dane-zaa Language Authority, Shona Nelson, October 3, 2012). Different Tribes and First Nations use different spellings: Doig River First Nation (DRFN) and Halfway River First Nation (HRFN) use Dane-Zaa; Profit River First Nation (PRFN) use Dunne Tsaa; and the West Moberly First Nations (WMFNs) are using Dunne-za (or Dunne Za)). Where other spellings are used in citations, such as Dunne-Za (e.g., Ridington 1988), they are kept intact and are synonymous with Dane-zaa. The historic usual English term Beaver is a translation of the name used by several of their neighboring tribes; the Dakelh called them Tsattine / Tsat'en and the Plains Cree Amiskiwiyiniw, both meaning "Those who live among the beaver" or "Beaver People". In French they are known as the Gens de Castor - "People of the Beaver".
Prior to 1800 the Dane-zaa inhabited lands further east, near the Athabaska and Clearwater rivers, and north to Lake Athabaska, as well as territory north of the upper Peace River (called Saaghii Naachii - ″big river″ by them). Recent archaeological evidence establishes that the area of Charlie Lake north of Fort St John has been continuously occupied for 10,500 years by varying cultures of indigenous peoples.
In the late 18th century, European Canadians opened the Peace River area to fur trading. The Cree, a powerful people to the east of the Dane-zaa, had become highly dependent on the European goods and the maintenance of a trade monopoly with North West Company traders (the Northwest Company later amalgamated with the Hudson's Bay Company). The Scots-Canadian explorer Alexander Mackenzie established Rocky Mountain Fort at the mouth of the Moberly River in 1794. According to Dane-zaa oral history, the Peace River is named for the settling of a conflict between the Beaver and the Cree. The Cree traditionally lived south and east of the Upper Peace River region. Due to their trade with settlers, they had guns and they pushed the Beaver northwest in the late 1700s. A peace treaty was negotiated in the late 1700s or early 1800s which saw the Cree agree to stay south of the Peace River, and the Beaver north (Chillborne Environmental 2009). The Peace River, before and after its new name, has long marked a boundary zone, where groups meet for trade, celebration and the settling of disputes. For the Cree, the term for the Peace River became “making the peace” or chegeh newaaho.
A post journal of 1799-1800 mentions people trading at the post who can be identified as the ancestors of members of the former Fort St John Band, now the Doig River and Blueberry River First Nations. Oral history collected from elders at Doig confirms that the ancestors of present Dane-zaa families were in the upper Peace River area prior to first contact by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793. Traders provisioned their expeditions with bison meat and grease collected by the Dane-zaa in their hunting on the rich prairies of the upper Peace River area. By the time the Hudson's Bay Company took over the North West Company in 1823, bison had become commercially extinct.
For many years the Dane-zaa have followed the teachings and songs of their "Dreamers," who first predicted the coming of the Europeans. The last Dreamer, Charlie Yahey, died in 1976. The Dane-zaa of Fort St John took an adhesion to Treaty 8 in 1900. Today they continue to have a vibrant cultural and economic presence in the North Peace area.
Treaty 8 Tribal Association
- Doig River First Nation (Dane-Za Adishtl'sh, takes its name from the Doig River (Hanás̱ Saahgéʔ) running through the reserve and has strong ties with the Blueberry River First Nation, band office is on the most populous reserve Blueberry River IR No. 206, Reserves: Beaton River IR No. 204 (North Half), Doig River IR No. 206, Population: 301)
- Blueberry River First Nations (was given this name because of the abundant supply of blueberries found in the river valley, band office is on the most populous reserve IR No. 205, about 80 km northwest of Fort St. John, Danezaa and Cree, Reserves: Beaton River No. 204 (South Half), Blueberry River IR No. 205, Population: 472)
- Halfway River First Nation (originally from Chowade River (Stony River) it was the last First Nation to move to its new location in the early sixties. Once forming with the West Moberly First Nation the Hudson Hope Band, the First Nations separated in 1971, the community is located 75 km northwest of Fort St. John, Reserve: Halfway River IR No. 168, Population: 268)
- Prophet River First Nation (Dene Tsaa First Nation, the First Nation is located 100 km south of Fort Nelson, Reserve: Prophet River IR No. 4, Population: 266)
- Saulteau First Nations (In the 1870s one group of Anishnaube (Saulteau) migrated westward from Manitoba and settled at Moberly Lake, where they later intermarried with the Nēhiyawēwin (Cree) and Danezaa (Beaver) who were already living in the area, the community is located at the east end of Moberly Lake, about 100 km southwest of Fort St. John, Reserve: East Moberly Lake IR No. 169, Population: 840)
- West Moberly First Nations (was originally part of the Hudson Hope Band, which split into West Moberly and Halfway River First Nations in 1971, the community is located at the west end of Moberly Lake, about 90 km southwest of Fort St. John, Danezaa and Cree, Reserve: West Moberly Lake No. 168A, Population: 275)
North Peace Tribal Council (NPTC)
- Beaver First Nation has two reserves are both near Fort Vermilion, Alberta in the Peace Country of Northern Alberta, band office is on the most populous Reserve Beaver IR No. 164A, Reserves: Boyer IR No. 164 (Rocky Lane), Child Lake IR No. 164A (Eleske), Population: 1 027)
Western Cree Tribal Council
- Horse Lake First Nation is a First Nation headquartered in Hythe, Alberta. It is a party to Treaty 8, and despite being a member of the Western Cree Tribal Council, the Horse Lake nation is linguistically and culturally a part of the Danezaa or "Beavers". Reserves: Clear Hills IR No. 152C, Horse Lakes IR No. 152B, Population: 1 089)
- Doig River First Nation
- Map of Northwest Coast First Nations (including Dunneza)
- Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in 1789 and 1793 Vol. II (1903 ed.)
- Living In A Storied Land Royal British Columbia Museum
- Treaty 8 Tribal Association Communities
- Doig River First Nation
- Halfway River First Nation
- Saulteau First Nations
- North Peace Tribal Council (NPTC)