Tatsanottine Tribe

Tatsanottine Indians, Tatsanottine People, Tatsanottine First Nation (‘people of the scum of water,’ scum being a figurative expression for copper). An Athapascan tribe, belonging to the Chipewyan group, inhabiting the northern shares and eastern hays of Great Slave lake, Mackenzie Dist., Canada. They were said by Mackinzie in 1789 to live with other tribes on Mackenzie and Peace rivers. Franklin in 1824 1 said that they, had previously lived on the south side of Great Slave lake. Gallatin in 1836 2 gave their location as north of Great Slave lake on Yellow Knife river, while Back placed them on the west shore of Great Slave lake. Drake 3 located them on Coppermine river; Richardson 4 gave their habitat as north of Great Slave lake and from Great Fish river to Coppermine river. Hind in 1863 5 placed them north and north east of Great Slave lake, saying than they resorted to Ft Rae and also to Ft Simpson on Mackenzie river. Petitot in 1865 6 said they frequent the steppes east and north east of Great Slave lake: but 10 years later 7 he located then, about the east part of the lake. They were more nomadic than their neighbors, which doubtless accounts for the wide area ascribed to them by some of the earlier travelers who met theist during their hunting trips in territory belonging to the Etchareottine. Prior try 1850 they were in the habit of visiting the north end of Great Bear lake to hunt muskoxen and reindeer; but many of their influential men were killed by treachery in a feud with the Thlingchadinne; since then they have kept more to the east end of Great Slave lake. In their hunting trip, northward they came in contact with the Eskimo residing near the mouth of Rick river, with whom they were continually at war, but in recent years they seldom traveled farther coastward than the headwaters of Yellow Knife river, leaving a strip of neutral ground between them and their former enemies. According to Father Morice, “they now hunt on the dreary steppes lying to the north east of Great Slave lake,” and that formerly they were “a bold, unscrupulous and rather licentious tribe, whose members too often took advantage of the gentleness of their neighbors to commit acts of high handedness – which finally brought down on them what we cannot help calling just retribution.” 8 Back, in 1836, stated that the Tatsanottine were once powerful and numerous, but at that time they had been reduced by wars to 70 families. Ross in 1859 made the census for the Hudson’s Bay Company as follows, but his figures evidently included only one band: At Ft Resolution, 207; at Ft Rae, 12; total, 219, of whom 46 males and 54 females were married, 8 unmarried adult males, 14 widows and unmarried females, 44 boys, and 53 girls, giving 98 males and 121 females of all ages. According to Father Morice they now number about 500, of whom 205 are at Ft Resolution. The Tatsanottine were the Montagnais of the Hudson’s Bay Company, for whom a special alphabet was designed and books printed in it by the English missionaries 9. Petitot found them serious and religiously inclined like the Chipewyan, from whom they differed so lightly in physique and in language that no novice could tell them apart. They formerly manufactured, and sold at fabulous prices, copper knives, axes, and other cutting tools, according to Father Morice. The metal was found on a low mountain in the vicinity of the river called Coppermine river by the traders on Hudson bay. The diffusion of iron and steel implements at length so depreciated the value of the aboriginal wares that, finding the main source of their revenue cut off through the new order of things, they finally moved to the south.

The Tatsanottine have a myth that one of their women was kidnapped and carried blindfolded off to the country of the Eskimo in Asia and married to one of these, and that she made her escape with her infant in an umiak, reached the shore of America by paddling from isle to isle of the Aleutian archipelago, being protected on the voyage by a white wolf. Reaching the shore of Alaska she abandoned her Eskimo child because it robbed her of pemmican she had made. Seeing a blazing mountain she ascended it, thinking to find a party camping on the summit. She found that the flames were emitted by a molten metal, and when eventually she reached the camp of her own people they accompanied her back by the path she had marked with stones to get some of the metal, which they called bear’s dung or beaver’s dung, because it was red. They thought she was a woman descended from the skies, but when they had made the journey for the third time some of them laid violent hands on her, whereupon she sat down beside her precious copper, refusing to go home with them. When they came back some time later to seek the volcano of molten copper, she was still there, but sunk to her waist into the earth. She gave them copper, but again refused to go back with them, putting no faith in their promises. She said she would give good metal to those who brought her good meat, iron if the gift were lung, liver, or heart of the caribou, copper for whomsoever gave red flesh, but if anyone brought bad meat they would get brittle metal in return. Those who came back later for more metal found her buried to the neck in the ground. The last time they came she had disappeared in the bowels of the earth, and from that time no more copper could be found on the bank of Copper river, though there may still be seen the huge stones which the metal woman placed to mark the way. Her tribe have since been called the Copper People, for water scum and beaver dung are both figurative names for this metal.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. Franklin, Journ, Polar Sea, 16, 1824[]
  2. Trans..Am. Antiq. Soc., ii, 19, 1856[]
  3. Drake, Bk. Inds. vii, 1848[]
  4. Richardson, Arct. Exped, ii, 4, 1851[]
  5. Hind, Labrador Penin., ii, 261, 1863[]
  6. Petitot, MS., B. A. E.[]
  7. Dict. Dènè-Dindjiè, xx, 1876[]
  8. Anthropos, i, 266, 1906[]
  9. see Pilling, Bibliog. Athapascan Lang., 1892[]

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