Dene distribution in the North with movement to West Coast ca. 500 AD

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The Athapaskans, or as they call themselves, the Dene or People, occupy the largest indigenous area in North America, from Alaska east to Hudson’s Bay and south to Oregon, California and the American Southwest (lower left inset). In Canada the Dene inhabit parts of the four western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba), plus the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The Chipewyan occupy the largest part to the east (hatched area on map). In the United States and across the Rockies from the Pacific Dene in Oregon and California, the Navajo and Apache Dene inhabit part of the American Southwest, with the Apache extending into Mexico.

About 500 AD the Central Plateau Dene of British Columbia left for the Pacific Coast, becoming tribes like the Tolowa and Tututni. An ancient legend mentions the Apache originating in the far north, once living in ice houses on the shore of a great inland sea. Could this be Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan north of the Great Plains or Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories further north? Both are in non-mountainous Chipewyan areas, but the Navajo claim a mountain origin, which is possible if we accept their ultimate beginning in Alaska rather than in the Southwest.