ETHNONYMS: Casca, Kasa, Nahane, Nahani
The Kaska, a group of Athapaskan-speaking Indians closely related to the Tahltan, live in northern British Columbia and southeastern Yukon Territory in Canada. Formerly spread out thinly over a wide area, most now live on several reserves in the region. There are four bands or subgroups: Frances Lake, Upper Liard, Dease River, and Nelson Indians (Tselona). Most Kaska today are relatively fluent in English. There may be as many as twelve hundred Kaska now living on the reserves in the general area.
Continuous contact with Whites began early in the nineteenth century when the Hudson's Bay Company established trading posts at Fort Halkett and other locations. Roman Catholic and Protestant missionization has been in progress since the first part of the twentieth century. A Roman Catholic mission was established at McDame Creek in the Dease River area in 1926. Today most Kaska are nominally Roman Catholics, although they are not particularly devout. Few vestiges of the aboriginal religion seem to remain, most of them changed by exposure to Christianity.
Traditionally, the Kaska built sod- or moss-covered conical lodges made from closely packed poles, and A-frame buildings made from two lean-tos placed together. In recent times they have lived in log cabins, tents, or modern frame houses, depending on the season and location. Traditional subsistence was based on the collecting of wild vegetable foods by the women while the men secured game by hunting (including caribou drives) and trapping; fishing provided the primary source of protein. With the advent of the trading posts and fur trapping, the technological and subsistence Systems changed radically. Traditional technology, based on the working of stone, bone, horn, antler, wood, and bark gave way to the White man's hardware, clothing (except for that made of tanned skins), and other material items, obtained in exchange for furs. Traditional travel by snowshoes, toboggans, skin and bark boats, dugouts, and rafts has generally given way to motorized scows and trucks, although dogsleds and snowshoes are still used in running the winter traplines.
The local band—generally an extended family group plus other individuals—was part of the amorphous regional band. Only the local band had headmen. The Kaska "tribe" as a whole, however, has a government-appointed chief who exercises little political control. Most Kaska belong to one or the other exogamous matrimoieties named Crow and Wolf, whose main function seems to have been preparing for burial the bodies of persons belonging to the opposite moiety.
Honigmann, John J. (1949). Culture and Ethos of Kaska Society. Yale University Publications in Anthropology, no. 40. New Haven, Conn.: Department of Anthropology, Yale University. (Reprint, Human Relations Area Files, 1964.)
Honigmann, John J. (1954). The Kaska Indians: An Ethnographic Reconstruction. Yale University Publications in Anthropology, no. 51. New Haven, Conn.: Department of Anthropology, Yale University.
Honigmann, John J. (1981). "Kaska." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 6, Subarctic, edited by June Helm, 442-450. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.