Snake Indian River

Alberta. River: Athabasca River drainage
Tributary of the Athabasca entirely within Jasper National Park
53.1894 N 117.9839 W — Map 083F04 — GoogleGeoHack
Name officially adopted in 1956
Official in Canada

The Snake Indian River was named after a small tribe of indigenous people, referred to as the Snakes, who resided around Jasper House in the 19th century.

Jasper House is beautifully situated on an open plain, about six miles in extent, within the first range of the mountains. As the valley makes a bend above and below, it appears to be completely encircled by mountains, which rise from 4,000 to 5,000 feet, with bold craggy outlines; the little group of buildings which form the ” fort ” have been constructed, in keeping with their picturesque situation, after the Swiss style, with overhanging roofs and trellised porticos. The dwelling-house and two stores form three sides of a square, and these, with a little detached hut, form the whole of this remote establishment. The general direction of the valley of the Athabasca through the mountains seems to be a from south to north, with a very little easting. Four miles below the fort the Athabasca receives a large tributary from the W.N.W., which is known either as the Assineboine or the Snake Indian River. Opposite to the fort, from the opposite direction, comes Rocky River, and these two streams, with the Athabasca, define four great mountain masses.

There was once a little tribe of Indians known as the Snakes, that lived in the country to the north of Jasper House, but which, during the time of the North West Fur Company, was treacherously exterminated by the Assineboines. They were invited to a peace feast by the latter Indians, when they were to settle all their disputes, and neither party was to bring any weapons. It was held about three miles below the present site of Jasper House, but the Assineboines being all secretly armed, fell on the poor Snakes in the midst of the revelry, and killed them all. Such was the story I heard from the hunters here.

James Hector [1834–1907] 1859, in Palliser papers

In Indigenous cultures, the term snake is a generic pejorative used to describe other tribes, regardless of their actual ancestry, hence the many locations in Alberta where a number of different tribes lived, all of whom, although unrelated, were called “Snakes.” From 1688-1720s, when the British Empire first came into prolonged trade contact with the Western Cree and Blackfoot, both of these groups were united in a war against “the Snake Indians” of Canada. It is not clear if this term (used in this period of Canadian history) is meant to refer to the Northern Paiute people, inaccurate, or perhaps entirely unrelated. In modern Plains Cree language, the term “kinêpikoyiniwak / ᑭᓀᐱᑯᔨᓂᐘᐠ,” literally translating to “Snake Indian” refers to Shoshone people.


  • Canadian Board on Geographical Names. Place-names of Alberta. Published for the Geographic Board by the Department of the Interior. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1928. Hathi Trust
  • Palliser, John [1817–1887], and Spry, Irene Mary Biss [1907–1998], editor. The papers of the Palliser Expedition 1857-1860. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1968. Internet Archive
  • Karamitsanis, Aphrodite [1961–]. Place names of Alberta. Volume 1: Mountains, Mountain Parks and Foothills. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1991
  • Wikipedia. Snake Indian River
  • Wikipedia. Snake Indians
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