Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ (Fort Simpson), “the place where the rivers come together” is a village on the Dehcho Region of Canada’s Northwest Territories. The community is located on an island where the Dehcho (Mackenzie) and the Liard River meet.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the Dehcho region has been inhabited from at least 3000 BC. According to oral history, Dene have inhabited this land since time immemorial. During the late precontact period, the Slavey economy was based on the harvesting of fish, small game, moose, caribou and berries.
In winter, the Slavey camped in groups or local bands with family groupings of 10-30 people. In summer these groups came together briefly near the shores of a major lake to form a regional band of perhaps 200 persons. For centuries, this was the location that Dene people of the surrounding area would gather each summer to meet, celebrate and trade. Every summer the Dene of the surrounding area would gather here at Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ in the spring at the Spring Gathering. An event that Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation still celebrates annually!
Initial European contact occurred with Alexander Mackenzie‘s expedition in 1789. Soon after, trading posts were established throughout the area. The name of the community was Fort of the Forks in 1803 with the establishment of a trading post. The name later changed to Fort Simpson, after the Governor of Rupert’s Land, George Simpson, when the Hudson’s Bay took over the fort. After 1821 the Hudson’s Bay Co made Fort Simpson its major terminus for the Mackenzie region and in 1858 Anglican and Roman Catholic missions were established.
In 1899, the Slavey, Cree and Athapaskans (Dené) including Denesuline, Dane-zaa, Slavey, Tlicho and Yellowknives negotiated the first of the northern treaties, Treaty 8. Slavey in Alberta, BC and some parts of the Northwest Territories were incorporated into Treaty No 8 between 1899 and 1911, those in the rest of the NWT into Treaty No 11 in 1921-22 (see Treaties). July 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the treaty signing by some in Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́; who signed and what they were signing about still remains highly disputed to this day.
Between contact and the end of the Second World War, the Slavey still lived for most of the year in small, kin-based communities, harvested traditional foods, spoke their own languages and raised children in the manner of their parents, despite the influx of many non-Dene.
Since World War II
After the Second World War, new government programs, together with economic conditions which resulted in a collapse of the fur trade, brought about a major transformation in the lifestyle of the Slavey. As people moved into town and their children were sent to school. These government policies broke up the Dene family and the impacts of these government policies are still being felt to this day.
Today, the village is the cultural and political center of the Dehcho Region. With a population of 1,291, the community is home to a wide variety of people. Traditional harvesting remains a significant activity and way of survival for many locals.