Mackenzie encountered and worked with many indian tribes in the course of his travels.
Indians as helpers
Indians from various tribes were hired by Mackenzie as interpreters, hunters and guides. A Chipewyan “English chief” was his interpreter for the entire journey of the first expedition. They encountered small groups of natives camped on the river banks along the way. “We had a mass of most delicious fish from them.” Mackenzie gathered information, gave and received presents of arrows and dried fish. Guides were persuaded to join the party with gifts of kettles, axes, beads and knives, but they would only remain for a very short time. Yellowknife, Slave, Dogrib, Hare and Kutchin indians were amongst those hired.
The most common form of dwelling for the indians was the conical tent, the “wigwam”, covered with moose or caribou hide, on the tundra and with birchbark in the forest areas. Dome shaped tents with birchbark were sometimes by the Cree and Slave indians whilst the Kutchin and Dogrib used skins. In the winter they made low oblong cabins of poles, the walls chinked with moss and the roof covered in spruce boughs.
The Kutchin indians lived in the region between the Upper Yukon and the Lower Mackenzie rivers. The tribes were extremely fond of story telling, games, singing and dancing, the music being supplied by drums and whistles. Dance feasts were held for various reasons, to stir up the fighting spirit, mourn a leader, or celebrate.
The overall lifestyle of the people was similar. For successful hunting and fishing, small groups of extended families lived together and followed the movements of game animals. Adapting to annual migrations and seasonal foraging movements, great emphasis was placed on self reliance and independence, yet respecting others’ freedom of action. Only for a short period during the summer months did the various groups rendezvous, so expressing a form of tribal solidarity.
Two Beaver indans were hired as interpreters and hunters. On route, the group were guided by Sekani then Carrier indians, then when they descended into the Bella Coola Valley to “Friendly Village” they were offered food, shelter and guides by the Bella Coolas. “My hospitable friend immediately brought me some berries and roasted salmon, the former, which consisted among many others, gooseberries, whirtleberries, and raspberries. They also brought the dried roes of fish to eat with the berries” - Mackenzie.
On reaching Dean Channel, the group encountered the Bella Bellas of “Rascal’s Village”, who were extremely hostile and actually attacked Mackenzie. It was said that their hostility was caused by having been shot at by white sailors.