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Fort St. James National Historic Site of Canada

Our Roots, Our Future

Our Roots, Our Future: Experiencing Canada's National Historic Sites in the Classroom will help you to enrich your history curriculum. Presented in a standard format and reviewed by practising history teachers, the activities help students understand how nationally significant places, people, and events interacted to create the story of Canada's past.

Carrier Peoples

© Parcs Canada

The Carrier are members of the Athapaskan language group and live in the north central interior of British Columbia on lake and river tributaries of the Upper Skeena and Fraser rivers. Carrier people call themselves “Dakelh-ne” or “Yinka Dene,” or they identify themselves by the community from which they come with the addition of the suffix “t'en” or “whut'en” (people of). There are three dialects of Carrier: “central” spoken by the Carrier around Stuart and Trembleur Lakes; “Babine” spoken by those Carrier around the Bulkley River and Babine Lake; and “southern” spoken by the Carrier groups around Quesnel and in the Anaheim Lake areas

Many of the Carrier families became trade partners with the newcomers who set up posts in their region in the early 1800s. Some of the more prominent Carrier traders of the 19th and early 20th century fur trade were Qua, known as Chief Kwah and his son Simeon Le Prince, Gross Tete, Dayah, and Joseph Prince. The alliances between Carrier and fur trader were forged through trade ceremonies, gift giving and sometimes marriages between Native women and the fur traders. While the Carrier expectations of this relationship leaned toward mutual loyalty and reciprocal obligation, the fur traders hoped the connections would ultimately translate into smoothly-operating system of profits for the Company's business.

© Parcs Canada

However, the traditional economy of the Carrier was based on fishing, rather than on fur trapping. And so it was with much frustration -- and limited success -- that the fur trade companies encouraged the Carrier to adopt the necessary changes in their seasonal round, tools, and activities to get a sometimes-profitable trade in furs established. One obstacle was that, like the salmon fisheries, access to beaver and the beaver lands was proprietary and based on a ceremonial network of potlatching, clans, and inherited titles. The fur traders likely found this social reality both annoying and incomprehensible, and they spent considerable effort to overcome these “obstacles” to rallying a “useful” fur trapping workforce.

Today, while the cash economy is well rooted at Fort St James, it is significant that the ancient systems for the distribution of resources between Carrier families and clans continue to function. In fact, the degree of change over the past century and the persistence and resilience of the traditional Carrier culture at Fort St James are equally noteworthy.