The K'asho Got'ine are Athapaskan-speaking people whose ancestors lived in small, nomadic bands along the lower Mackenzie River valley of the NWT. The K'asho Got'ine had a precontact population of 700-800. They pursued a hunting, fishing and gathering way of life centered on caribou, moose, freshwater fish, small game and berries, and exploited a territory from the Yukon border to forested zones west and northwest of Great Bear Lake. Several cultural features distinguished the K'asho Got'ine from neighbouring Gwich'in, Shuta Got'ine, Slavey and Tlicho. They spoke their own dialect of Athapaskan and were noted for their timid relations with other Aboriginal groups. The name Hare, given by early Europeans, reflected their heavy dependence on the snowshoe hare for food and clothing. Since the hare goes through a population cycle every 7 to 10 years, the indigenous population periodically experienced devastating starvation.
Religion and Community Life
The K'asho Got'ine traditionally viewed their world in animistic terms. They observed many taboos to ensure good hunting, and relied on shamans to cure illness, protect them against enemies and intercede with the spirits. They had a rich oral folklore, and participated in drum dances and competitive gambling. Their communities were held together by kinship ties on both the father's and the mother's side. Though the K'asho Got'ine lacked formal leaders, outstanding hunters and shamans had considerable influence. The K'asho Got'ine were governed by an ethic that balanced sharing and interdependence with autonomy and freedom. There was no concept of individual ownership of land, and people were free to hunt and fish in any part of their territory.
First recorded contact with Europeans came during the explorations of Alexander Alexander Mackenzie in 1789. Early in the 19th century the K'asho Got'ine were drawn into the fur trade as forts spread north along the Mackenzie River. Their trading activities were centered on Fort Good Hope and also on Forts Norman and Franklin. A Roman Catholic mission was established in 1859 at Fort Good Hope, and the people's conversion to Christianity began. For much of the 19th century and until the decline of fur prices after WWII, most of the K'asho Got'ine combined trapping with subsistence hunting.
In recent decades the K'asho Got'ine have had to contend with a growing dependence on a wage-labour economy and the effects of alcohol, tuberculosis and other diseases. A 1921 treaty that the K'asho Got'ine signed with the federal government has been a source of controversy: according to the treaty's terms, they retained the right to hunt, fish and trap in their traditional lands, but present-day First Nations leaders argue that they did not thereby give up title to their ancestral territory (see Treaties). Through land claims negotiations with the federal government during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the K'asho Got'ine - along with other Dene groups - have sought to re-establish greater sovereignty over portions of their Aboriginal territory. While the people continue to live off the resources of their lands, many have been attracted to the amenities of a settled life in larger towns. A notable exception to this trend was the creation, in the early 1960s, of a new village at Colville Lake, 142 km northeast of Fort Good Hope, in an area rich with game and fish. Fort Good Hope and Déline (Fort Franklin), with a combined population of 1514 in 1996, are now the major population centres of the K'asho Got'ine. In 1996 there were 1834 registered K'asho Got'ine.