Culture & Linguistic Affiliation

Our Culture & Linguistic Affiliation

While the language spoken by the Cree members of the Duncan‘s First Nation and their ancestors is classified within the Algonquian Language Family, there is some confusion in the literature concerning both the name of the particular dialect of Cree spoken in this region of northwest Alberta and the name of the ethnic grouping of those who speak this dialect of Cree. The term Cree is used both in English and in French to designate all those who speak the Cree language. But the word Cree, itself, is actually derived from a shortened form of the Ojibwa term for the Cree people written as Knisteneaux. Variants of this term, Knisteneaux, first appeared in historical documents in the mid-1600s. 7 The French Canadians are said to have immediately adopted the term and then shortened it to Crees or Cree; by the late 1700s, the English, as well, were using Cree in this generic sense to refer to all Cree people.

Another term applied to the Cree and used in the early historical literature is said to be the term pronounced in Western Woods Cree as ne’ hithawe and translated as “those who speak the same language”. 8 Explorer David Thompson, writing about his 1790-1797 experiences among the Cree people, transcribed this same term as Na hath a way, which he said is their [the Cree‘s] native name. 9 And Alexander Mackenzie wrote the same term as Nahathaway on a circa 1804 map, very likely prepared for him by Aaron Arrowsmith. 10

The linguistic, anthropological and historical literature includes considerable discussion relating to the identification of the dialects of Cree and how to classify the dialect spoken by the Duncan‘s First Nation and their ancestors. A further debate among scholars has focused on whether the dialect spoken by the Cree people in the region where Indian Reserves were set aside for the Duncan‘s First Nation should be classified as Woods Cree (also given as Woodland Cree and Northern Cree) or as Plains Cree (also given as Northern Plains Cree).

Duncan’s First Nation descends from the Cree/Beaver tribes of Eastern British Columbia and Western Alberta. In the 1600s, the Duncan’s First Nation ancestry were amongst the first tribes to encounter British traders on the Hudson Bay, at which time traditional hunting grounds reached only as far west as the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary. By the 1800s, as European trade relations intensified, these hunting and trapping peoples needed to frequent a larger span of hunting grounds, which now extended from Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains and from the plains up to the sub-Arctic. Often sharing land with the Ojibwa and Assiniboine Indians, the Duncan’s First Nation were significant players in the fur trade. The Treaty Eight areas had been served by trading posts since 1800 and, by 1850, they witnessed the establishment of Catholic missions. In June of 1899, the Treaty Commission, led by David Laird, reached the Peace River Crossing. The first signatories of Treaty No. 8 were two chiefs in Lesser Slave Lake, followed by leaders in Peace River and Athabasca. Duncan Tastaoosts (Testawich) acted as spokesperson/Headman for approximately 67 local Cree residents and ratified the Treaty. Though Duncan, whose name the current #151 would adopt, was of mixed Cree-Iroquois blood; he identified himself with the Cree in the region.

In the mid-1970’s, Duncan’s Band joined the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council, the first Tribal Council in Alberta. This enabled Duncan’s Band to accept the transfer of responsibility for band programming from Indian Affairs to the local level, under INAC’s Alternate Funding Program. By 1998, DFN transferred to the newly formed Western Cree Tribal Council, along with Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation and Horse Lake First Nation. The Head Office is located at Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, with a sub-office located at Grande Prairie. DFN manages its funding and programming under the First Nations Financial Administration Act. In the past, DFN members have depended on their lands as economy-based with hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping. Today, there is less than 30% of their traditional land base to pursue their constitutionally protected treaty rights. Working within today’s economy, it has forced DFN to move from traditional ways into seeking accommodation with industry and government. See Economic Development and/or Chief and Council page for more information.