The Dogrib are one division of the widespread population of the Dene or Athapaskan-speaking peoples who, by archaeological and linguistic evidence, first entered western Alaska from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge that existed during late Pleistocene times. They subsequently spread throughout interior Alaska and the western Canadian Subarctic. As a distinctive linguistic-tribal entity, the Dogrib emerged after their ancestors' entry, at an indeterminate period in prehistoric times, into the area they occupy today. The neighboring Athapaskan-speaking peoples to the east, the Chipewyan, and to the north, the Copper Indians, were distinguishing the Dogrib from themselves in the eighteenth century, but whether some groups ancestral to the present-day Slavey were, in that period, included in this appellation is not clear. By the mid-eighteenth century a few European goods were being traded to the Dogrib for furs by Chipewyan middlemen.
With the Slavey to the west and the Hare Indians north of Great Bear Lake, also Athapaskan speakers, the Dogrib seem always to have been on peaceful terms. Those groups as well as the Dogrib suffered intermittent predations by the Algonkian-speaking Cree from the southeast in the late eighteenth century and by the Copper (Yellowknife) Indians up to 1823. In 1823 a successful attack by the Dogrib on a band of the small Copper Indian tribe brought first an uneasy and then an enduring peace. By then a few fur trade posts were established in the South Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River region. There was no trading post in Dogrib territory, However, until Old Fort Rae (down the North Arm of Great Slave Lake from the site of the present Rae) was established by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1852. The first Roman Catholic missionary, of the Oblats de Marie Immaculée, reached Old Fort Rae in 1859. Within ten years most of the Dogrib had accepted Roman Catholicism and it remains their religion today.
With the other Dene peoples north of Great Slave Lake the Dogribs trading into Rae "signed" Treaty No. 11 in 1921. (The southernmost Dogribs, most of whose descendants live at Detah, had long traded into Fort Resolution on the south side of Great Slave Lake and had there "signed" Treaty No. 8 in 1899.) The treaty marked the advent of official Canadian government relations with the Dogrib.