Dene Ward: The people of the land and water DEH-NEH

With “deh” meaning water, and “neh” meaning land, the word Dene expands further to mean human beings or people of land and water. Dene refers to the various tribes who settled along the North Saskatchewan River, including Edmontonians who have settled and live there now. It has a direct application not only to the past, but to the present and future.

Travelling from Cold Lake to the area now known as Edmonton was a long journey that many Dene families looked forward to several times per year. The Dene travelled by canoe and by foot along the North Saskatchewan River to hunt and reach Edmonton to trade goods. Typically, Dene women stayed back home to mind the children, gather and prepare food and make clothing. Bountiful resources came back from these trips and their travels helped them build relationships with other communities along the way. 

Once the Forts were established, travel became more frequent and opportunities to trade and gather with other Indigenous tribes became more common.

Trading of furs, foods, tools and other goods at the Forts the Dene with the opportunity to improve their quality of life. The Dene primarily traded fish and elk at these large gatherings.

Many Dene tribes settled along the shores of the North Saskatchewan River, including the area where Edmonton now sits. There are many Dene people living in Alberta, including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Cold Lake First Nations, and Dene Tha First Nation.

Dene people are spread across Canada – the largest concentration of Dene language speakers currently live in Saskatchewan. Dene languages became official languages of the Northwest Territories in 1990 to account for the large number of Dene people living there. 

Ward map.