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For the language, see Slavey language.
South Slavey
(Dene Tha' & Dehcho)
Slavey girls Mackenzie River Northwest Territories - NA-1463-23.jpg
Total population
Northwest Territories
2,310 (2006)[1]
English, North and South Slavey language
Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Sahtu (North Slavey)

The Slavey (also Slave) are a First Nations aboriginal people of the Dene group, indigenous to the Great Slave Lake region, in Canada's Northwest Territories, and extending into northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta.


The name "Slave" is an English translation of the Cree name for their traditional enemies, including the people now known as the Slavey, whom they often enslaved; the French Esclave is analogous. However, in order to avoid the connotations of the word slave, the name came to be presented as indigenous, and this was indicated by pronouncing the e. Later the spelling was changed to Slavé, and then Slavey, to capture the new pronunciation. The name is seldom used by the Slavey, who call themselves Dene. Indigenous ethnonyms for South Slavey people and language are Dehcho, Deh Cho Dene (″Mackenzie River People″) or Dene Tha.[2]

Though most Athabaskan peoples call themselves Dene, those in the Northwest Territories tend to mean it for themselves only. However, the northern Slavey are also known in English as the Sahtú, while the southern band are known as the Deh Cho.[3]

The names of the Slave River, Lesser Slave River, Great Slave Lake and Lesser Slave Lake all derive from this Cree name for their enemies, though not necessarily from the people now known as Slavey in English. The term Esclaves remains incorporated in each of these geographical features' French names.


The South Slavey live in northwestern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and the southern Northwest Territories. First Nations of South Slavey people:[4]

The Sahtu, Sahtu Dene (″Great Bear Lake People″) or North Slavey people live exclusively in the Northwest Territories. They speak the North Slavey language

The Navajo people (Diné) of the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States are said to be descended from the Nahani, who lived where the Nahanni National Park Reserve is, and also the Slavey of Northern Canada.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dene language
  2. ^ Rice, Sally 2009. Athapaskan eating and drinking verbs and constructions. In J. Newman (ed.), The Linguistics of Eating and Drinking, 109-152. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. [Contemporary, indigenous ethnonyms for some of the Athapaskan languages represented in this paper are given in parentheses after the term likely to be more common in the traditional linguistic and anthropological literature: Babine (Witsuwit’en), Chipewyan (Dene Sųłiné), Navajo (Diné), Sarcee/Sarsi (Tsuu T’ina) South Slavey (Dehcho or Dene Tha), North Slave (Sahtu).]
  3. ^ Dehcho First Nation
  4. ^ Dene Tha’ Presence in Northeastern BC (Prepared by: Randy Bouchard. Prepared for: Calliou Group, Calgary, Alberta on Behalf of the Dene Tha’ First Nation, 14 July 2009)
  5. ^ Shirleen Smith 1999. Dene treaties, anthropology and colonial relationships. A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta. Edmonton, Alberta, Spring 1999. [Chapter 2. In this chapter, I use the term "Slavey" in summarizing the ethnographic descriptions of Deh Cho Dene. I should clarify that this is not the term Dene use to describe themselves. In the Deh Cho region, Dene have a number of names for their people, for example: Dene from Acho Kue refer to themselves as Acho Dene, and the "Mountain Dene" from Fort Norman (part of the Deh Cho First Nations Council) refer to themselves as the Begade Shotagotine. A much more detailed discussion of Dene names is warranted for future work.]
  6. ^ South Slavey Topical Dictionary Kátłʼodehche Dialect
  7. ^ For example, the Great Canadian Parks website suggests the Navajo may be descendants of the lost Naha tribe, a Slavey tribe from the Nahanni region west of Great Slave Lake. "Nahanni National Park Reserve". Great Canadian Parks. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Asch, Michael. Slavey Indians. [S.l: s.n, 1978.

External links[edit]