Early-contact-period Kaska material culture and subsistence were basically similar to those of other Athapaskan peoples of the subarctic plateau, especially those who similarly lacked salmon and migratory herds of barren-ground caribou. Woodland caribou, moose, Dall sheep, berries and whitefish are among the principal traditional resources of the rugged upper Liard River region.
During the middle to latter half of the 19th century there were four regional Kaska bands - Frances Lake, Upper Liard, Dease River and the Nelson Aboriginal people - though these divisions were not cohesive social units. The primary unit of Kaska society was the local band, consisting of an extended family with a male leader. Although most Kaska belonged to one of two exogamous matri-moieties, Wolf and Crow, with reciprocal obligations, moiety bonds appear to have been weak.
Many Kaska formed village communities following the 1873 CASSIAR DISTRICT gold rush, when other First Nations, Métis, Europeans and Chinese entered the region. By 1888 the number of miners had dwindled, but many natives, referred to as Cascar, remained. The backgrounds of the families aligned with the Lower Post and McDame trading posts were diverse, though Athapaskan speakers made up the majority, but intermarriage between the offspring of the immigrants represented the first step towards integration of the communities. As wage-labour opportunities declined, hunting and fur trapping provided the most stable resources. Their exploitation played a primary role in the emerging social pattern, especially through the formation of trapping alliances. Upon marriage, each couple had to consider the situation at hand, and there were no simple rules regarding exogamy, postmarital residence or household composition.
Like many native groups of Northwestern Canada, the Kaska suffered severely from epidemics early in the 20th century, particularly INFLUENZA, about 1920. After the 1920s, when Lower Post was linked into the air route between Edmonton and Whitehorse, Euro-Canadian influences increased again. The WWII period provided good returns from trapping and wage labour: Watson Lake became a supply station during construction of the ALASKA HIGHWAY and remains a major highway service point, and Lower Post was a depot. After the war governmental services increased dramatically, and interactions with Euro-Canadians continued to be channelled into administrative and educational functions and mining operations.
The five bands that comprise the Kaska Dena Nation are the Dease River First Nation, Daylu Dena, Kwadacha First Nation, Liard First Nation, and the Ross River Dena Council. An elected chief and council represent each Kaska band or nation in addition to the band hereditary chief. Since 1981 the Kaska Dena Council has advocated for all Kaska Dena during treaty negotiations with the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Between 1994 and 2003 the Kaska Dena Council and BC government were involved in a six-stage treaty negotiation process. In 2003, the federal government discontinued its participation in the negotiations with BC and the Yukon Kaska Nation bands and treaty negotiations were suspended. Since that time the federal government resumed negotiations with the Yukon Kaska and Yukon Territorial Government and began to participate in tripartite negotiations under the Yukon First Nations Umbrella Agreement. In 2008, the federal and BC governments reinitiated treaty negotiations with the Kaska Dena Council.
See also NATIVE PEOPLE, SUBARCTIC.
Author A. MCFADYEN CLARK Revised: ANNE-MARIE PEDERSEN
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