The name “Beavers” has a roundabout history. Jenness reports that Morice said that they called themselves Tsa huh. Morice called them Tsa-tauenne. This also appears in Tsa-tine. Since Morice reported what he learned from the Sekani, his information is sometimes pure hearsay.
Jenness (in his Bulletin #84, Anthropological Series No. 20) says that “The Carriers” (also Athapaskan speakers) of Fort George are known by the Fort McLeod Sekani as Kleglindjenne, or “people at the mouth of the river”. The Carrier . . . call the Sekani t’tatten “people of the Beaver Dams” a term that the Seikan of Fort Grahame apply in turn to the Beaver of Hudson’s Hope, although fully aware of it’s application to themselves. (A sort of “no-that’s-not-us – it’s those folk” common to children when they are called by nicknames they don’t like!) “For the Beaver as a whole the Seikan have no general designation, but speak of adzikochanne “people who live at the mountain that looks like a buffalo’s head” – i.e. the Beaver of Hudson’s Hope where the high round-headed mountain known as “Bull-head Mountain” sits on the north side of the highway to the W.A.C Bennett Dam.
The Beaver of Moberly Lake were called Dodachanne or Dodachenne meaning “people of the dead water below the canyon” – i.e. the Beaver of Moberly Lake.
The Grande Prairie region Beaver were t’lokotenne or t’lokochanne, “the grass or meadow people”. The Fort St. John and Dunvegan Beaver, which likely included the Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe people, were the t’satene or t’saton, meaning “beaver people”. The differences were caused by differences in speech between the Seikan of Fort McLeod and Fort Grahame. The Cree seem to have been called Dishinni by the Sekani west of the eastern Rockies.
The Beaver of Hudson’s hope called the Cree who settled at Moberly Lake Nadowa or “Cree who wear their hair short”.
Jenness reports that a group of Indians called by Fraser “The Meadow Indians” lived at the “headwaters of the South Pine River adjacent to the Parsnip River”. This would locate them between Mt.LeMoray and Windy point, although “Meadows aren’t notable there now. This may have been the western hunting ground of the “grass or meadow people” of the Grande Prairie, and may have been the origin of the ancient Indian trail through the Pine Pass now occupied by the John Hart Highway. Jenness speculates that the Indians may have, as of 1924, survived as the half-breeds around Grande Prairie since the mixed Beaver-Sekani of Hudson’s Hope still spoke of them as “Meadow Indians” calling them t’lowetchanne, which is just slightly different from the older t’lekochanne. Since “Grande Prairie” is just the French for “big meadow” or “grassland”, there seems to have been some agreement between the white newcomers and the old Indians in naming this area.
Incidentally, a story originating across the mountains says that the Indian, Pouce Coupe, came to our area through the Pine Pass, lived here for awhile, giving his name to our Prairie, and then departed to the west again. The author may be right, but nobody here in the Peace River area seems to agree with him.
The famous fur trader Harmon was probably responsible for recording the two main tribes, Sekani and Beaver. His Journal of Voyages and Travels in 1820 applies the name Beaver to (1) those living from the mouth of the Smoky, east of Grande Prairie to Hudson’s Hope and (2) the “Rocky Mountain Indians” of Mackenzie, to which Harmon gave the name “Sicanni”, his version of T’sekahne. Jenness points out that the division between Beavers and Sekani around Hudson’s Hope is largely arbitrary, and could very well be disregarded.
Perhaps the exclusiveness of a certain number who have always remained aloof from other Indians as well as from white men, causes the name Beaver to be applied to a group who had a different philosophy or religion. It may be somewhat like the term “Hutterite” for people who are also Canadian.
In 1875-76 A.R.C. Selwyn, of the Geological Survey of Canada grouped the Sekani and Beaver together, stating that they did not go below Dunvegan. (We know that the Beavers went as far as Fort Vermilion.) Dr. Dawson a year later defined the boundaries of the Siccanies [Sic] as extending no further east than Hudson’s Hope.
When such eminent authorities disagree, what hope for such ordinary mortals as we? Perhaps, if on response to the question “To what tribe do you belong?” an Indian says “I am a Beaver” or “I am a Sikanni” we would do better to accept his name for himself, leave it at that.
Meanwhile the Crees all agree that they named the Beavers because they were very exclusive, staying in close-knit groups and intermarrying in a way which the Crees still do not approve – within the family group.
Note. Some confusion extends to the name for the Athapaskans in the Rocky Mountain Trench. West Dene, Tsekini, Tsekani, Tsekehne, Sicaunni, Chicannis, Tsitka-ni Siccanies, Tse-keh-ne-az, Sikanni or Sekani or Sekani or perhaps others – it’s all one. However the official spelling seems to have settled down to Sekani in British Columbia. We will stay with that one – if we don’t forget other spelling which we have met.
One non-Athapaskan tribe lives in the Moberly Lake, Hudson’s Hope area. The Saulteau came originally from the area of Sault Ste. Marie, where they were called “Sauteau” in Daniel Harmon’s writings. Few reference books mention them now, because they are treated as part of the Assiniboine or Chippewa (not Chippewyans) or Ojibway (Ojibwa). In this area for some reason they sometimes call themselves “De Soto”, an obvious change in pronunciation over time. They represent a third language group in this area. Members of this group are also reported still to live around Fort Chipewyan.