The Dene (Dené) are an aboriginal group of First Nations who live in the northern boreal and Arctic regions of Canada. The Dené speak Northern Athabaskan languages. Dene is the common Athabaskan word for “people”. The term “Dene” has two usages. More commonly, it is used narrowly to refer to the Athabaskan speakers of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada, especially including the Chipewyan (Denesuline). Tlicho (Dogrib), Yellowknives (T’atsaot’ine), Slavey (Deh Gah Got’ine or Deh Cho), and Sahtu (the Eastern group in Jeff Leer’s classification; part of the Northwestern Canada group in Keren Rice’s classification). But it is sometimes also used to refer to all Northern Athabaskan speakers, who are spread in a wide range all across Alaska and northern Canada. Note that it never includes the Pacific Coast Athabaskan or Southern Athabaskan speakers in the continental U.S., despite the fact that the term Dene is used to denote the Athabaskan languages as a whole in the name of the Na-Dene language family, which groups the Athabaskan languages with Tlingit and Eyak.
The Diné (Navajo) and T’Inde (Apache) people, have names similar to the Dené. This seems surprising at first, given the several thousand of miles from them to the Dene heartland in northern Canada, but makes sense once it’s realized that they are in fact Athabaskan speakers themselves.
Dene are spread through a wide region. They live in the Mackenzie Valley (south of the Inuvialuit), and can be found west of Nunavut. Their homeland reaches to western Yukon, and the northern part of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alaska and the southwestern United States. Dene were the first people to settle in what is now the Northwest Territories. In northern Canada, historically there were ethnic feuds between the Dene and the Inuit. Behchoko, Northwest Territories is the largest Dene community in Canada.
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