Located in northern British Columbia and southern Yukon, the Kaska number fewer than 1,000 people. Their first contact with Europeans did not occur until the 1820s. They were primarily caribou hunters, but also hunted moose and Dall sheep. The furs were traded with other Native groups through a well-developed, Pacific Northwest coast, trade network.
Traditionally, the Kaska lived in small family camps in temporary dwellings such as tepees or huts made of poles and brush, or sometimes during summer months, in simple lean-tos. They travelled by birch-bark canoe, snowshoe and toboggan. Over the centuries Kaska people have intermarried with the Tlingit and Tahltan. However, they are most closely related to the Slavey of the Northwest Territories, and their language is similar to Tagish, Tahltan and Sekani (who share the northern regions).
The name Kaska is thought to be an English adaptation of Káská, the native name of the Creek that joins the Dease River near the former settlement of McDames, B.C. Their language is part of the Na-Dene (Athabaskan) language group that is spread over Western Canada. Mostly elders speak the Kaska language these days, with younger speakers having some difficulty with the various dialects of the region. They are actively involved, however, in maintaining their language. The indigenous name of the language is Dene Dzage or “the people’s language.”
The Kaska follow two matrilineal moieties, or clans, called Crow and Wolf in English. Rules governing interaction and marriage are less strictly observed than in the past. Since the 1950s, large permanent communities have evolved. Today, many Kaska work in resource related industries, such as mining and forestry, and are negotiating agreements with the Federal and Territorial governments concerning their traditional lands.
Sponsor: Margaret Zerter, in memoriam Wilhelm Zerter | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Flickr