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Dè T’a Hoti Ts’eeda: ‘We Live Securely by the Land’

Tipi Display in Scotland (photo credit: Neil Curtis, Curator of Marischal Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland)

Tipi Display in Scotland (photo credit: Neil Curtis, Curator of Marischal Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland)

Dè T’a Hoti Ts’eeda: ‘We Live Securely by the Land’ was an international exhibition that presented selected items from the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) Dene collection to a Canadian audience. The National Museums of Scotland (NMS), the Tłı̨chǫ Government, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC), and the Visual Research Centre at the University of Dundee (VRC/UD) collaborated in the development of this exhibition. It focused on Dogrib heritage items, but also included key pieces representative of other NWT Dene cultures.

The National Museums of Scotland collection is the oldest and most extensive collection of 19th century Dene artifacts in the world today. Assembled during a time of momentous change for the Dene, it includes items of great visual appeal and ethnographic interest, and provides unique perspectives on Dene technology and art during a critical period of their history. The exhibition provided a rare opportunity for Canadian audiences to view a selection of the most important objects in the collection.

This web archive presents materials assembled and published during the exhibition, including the companion catalogue, sample gallery of objects from the collection, background on the genesis of this project, and ancillary information about the historic connection between Scotland and Denendeh.


  • A fuller account of the history of the collection and of selected artefacts can be found in the catalogue The Athapaskans: Strangers of the North, National Museum of Man, Ottawa, 1974.

The information on this site is largely drawn from the following publication:

  • Idiens, D. 1979. A catalogue of Northern Athapaskan Indian Artefacts in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Museum Information Series, Art and Archaeology 3, March 1979.

Exhibit Partners


Supported by



Exhibition Background

In the 1990s, staff from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC) undertook a number of collaborative projects with agencies of the Dogrib and Gwich’in Nations designed to examine in detail significant objects from the material culture of these societies. Under the rubric of knowledge repatriation, these projects sought to inspire the reacquisition of lost skills and techniques and provide northern communities with an opportunity to explore and celebrate their heritage.

These projects garnered attention both at home and abroad and led to an invitation from David Anderson, professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland to attend the Ninth International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS) in September 2002. First convened in 1966 and entitled “Man the Hunter,” the conference assembled for the first time contemporary ethnographic and archaeological research relevant to hunting and gathering societies.

PWNHC’s presentations focused on two of our recent collaborative projects: the Dogrib caribou-skin lodge and the Gwich’in clothing projects. Presenting these projects at a prestigious international conference allowed the PWNHC and its community partners to promote NWT heritage and provided anthropologists, archaeologists, and Indigenous People from many different countries an opportunity to learn firsthand the efforts being made in the NWT to preserve material culture and traditions.

Rosa Mantla, Principal of the Elizabeth Mackenzie Elementary School in Rae, Ingrid Kritsch, Research Director for the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute (GSCI), Karen Wright-Fraser, seamstress and Yellowknife-based entrepreneur, representing GSCI, and Tom Andrews, Territorial Archaeologist with the PWNHC travelled to Scotland to present on behalf of these projects.

Following the presentations, the caribou-skin lodge was loaned to Marischal Museum for a ten day exhibition. On September 19, a group of grade 5 children visited the exhibit. Following their visit, the students prepared an album of drawings and letters, which they forwarded to the children of Elizabeth Mackenzie School in Rae.

In addition to these experiences, our delegation took the opportunity to study the 19th century Athapaskan ethnographic objects held in the collection of the Royal Museum of Scotland (RMS) in Edinburgh. This initial exchange eventually culminated in a working visit by our museum conservator Rosalie Scott to Scotland, and the international exhibition previewed here.

– Tom Andrews, Territorial Archaeologist, PWNHC

  • Karen Wright-Fraser, Rosa Mantla, Lianne Mantla, and Ingrid Kritsch

    photo group
  • Poster for the Gwich’in Clothing Project

    photo poster
  • Karen Wright-Fraser and Ingrid Kritsch with the Inuvik outfit

    photo kareningrid
  • Conservator Rosalie Scott examining, preparing, and packing items in Scotland.

    We Live Securely by the Land

History of the Collection
Professor George Wilson © The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

Professor George Wilson
© The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

Why are Northern Athapaskan artifacts in Scotland?

The Northern Athapaskan collection is part of the collections of the National Museums of Scotland and are housed in the Royal Museum (formerly the Royal Scottish Museum) in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Royal Museum was founded in 1854 under the title of the Industrial Museum of Scotland, inspired by the widespread public interest of the period in the industrial achievements of the 19th century which gave rise to a number of major European museums.

The first director of the Industrial Museum was Professor George Wilson (1818-1859), who also held the chair in Technology at the University of Edinburgh.  He laid the foundations of collections which were intended to show the industries of the world to Scotland by drawing on sources at home and abroad. Wilson was a scientist, and he approached the task of filling his museum in a systematic and purposeful manner, issuing a collecting list to potential donors which gave general guidance on the requirements of the museum.

The acquisition of the Northern Athapaskan collection was part of the Museum’s (then called the Industrial Museum) search for material to illustrate products and manufacturing processes.  Through the Director, George Wilson’s brother Daniel, who was Professor of History and English Literature at the University of Toronto, the museum was able to approach Sir George Simpson, Overseas Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and ask for his assistance. At Simpson’s urging, clerks, traders and factors of the Mackenzie District soon began sending objects to the new museum.

Hudson's Bay post at Fort Resolution. [NWT Archives/C. W. Mathers fonds/N-1979-058: 0007]

Hudson’s Bay post at Fort Resolution. [NWT Archives/C. W. Mathers fonds/N-1979-058: 0007]

Many of the staff of the Hudson’s Bay Company, factors, traders and clerks stationed in forts and trading posts in the far north of Canada, were Scots or had links with Scotland. Their response to Wilson’s request was patriotically generous, and for almost five years, between 1858 and 1862, consignments of Northern Athapaskan and Inuit artefacts were shipped to the museum, usually without charge. The objects were listed by the collectors, who gave their cultural origin and function. The Hudson’s Bay Company men chiefly involved were George Barnston at Norway House, James Hargrave at York Factory, Robert Campbell at Fort Chipewyan, and Bernard Ross at Fort Simpson. The greatest contribution was made by Ross, whose interest led him to send written accounts of Indian crafts, such as quillworking. The number of ‘series’ i.e. groups of one type of article, such as moccasins, showing the process of manufacture, are nearly all due to his intelligent response to the Museum’s requirements.

Bernard Rogan Ross (photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress)

Bernard Rogan Ross (photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress)

Bernard Rogan Ross (1827 – 1874)

Bernard Rogan Ross (1827-1874) was chief trader for the HBC in the Mackenzie River District from 1858 to 1862 (Bowsfield, 1972). Ross took particular interest in the natural sciences and studied geology, flora, fauna and culture of the Canadian Arctic and Subarctic (Lindsay 1987).

An Ulster-Scot born and educated in Londonderry, Ross was first posted by the HBC to Norway House in 1843 and he quickly rose through the ranks of the Company. In 1856 he was appointed Chief Trader and, from 1858 to 1862, assigned to Fort Simpson in charge of the Mackenzie District. Ross retired in 1871.

During his tenure as Chief Trader at Fort Simpson Ross made valuable natural history collections. Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii) was named in his honour. Although better known for his contributions to natural history than to fur trading, Ross became a founding fellow of the Anthropological Society in 1863, and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1864 in addition to several other learned societies.


  • Bowsfield, H. 1972 Bernard Rogan Ross. In, M. La Terreur (ed.), Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. X: 1871-1880. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 629
  • Lindsay, D. 1987 The Hudson’s Bay Company-Smithsonian Connection and Fur Trade Intellectual Life: Bernard Rogan Ross, A Case Study. In, B.G. Trigger et al (eds) Le Castor Fait Tout: Selected Papers of the Fifth North America Fur Trade Conference, 1985. Montreal: Lake St Louis Historical Society, pp. 587-617.
The Catalogue


In 2006, a companion catalogue was prepared to introduce, itemize, and describe the Athapaskan Collection of the National Museums of Scotland. This publication can be browsed below:

Collection I
Collection II

Collection II: Bags and Baskets

Click on the thumbnails to view more information about the objects.
All photos © The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

Collection III

Collection III: Tools, Transport, and Pipes

Click on the thumbnails to view more information about the objects.
All photos © The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland