Chief Papaschase – Edmontonian In the Spotlight – Pt 2.
Welcome back to our spotlight on Cree chief Papaschase! In Part I, his Cree-identified band of mixed descent had signed Treaty 6 at Fort Edmonton, but then had to wait almost a decade for their reserve, only to enter into a conflict of names and places, with drastic repercussions for all involved.
The Cree argued that the reserve was smaller than what had been promised for the size of their band. The settlers of Edmonton were not the traders of bygone days, content with small trading posts and beaver rather than farm land. They argued a different matter. Led by Edmonton Bulletin editor Frank Oliver, Edmontonians charged that Papaschase’s reserve, across the river from Edmonton, was a barrier to the settlement’s growth. No white settler lived there, in what is now nearly a quarter of south-east Edmonton, but they were accustomed to cutting firewood in the area, and pointed out that the reserve lay in the way of any path a rail-line would take from Calgary up to Edmonton.
Further, Oliver claimed that the Papaschase band was not traditionally from this area of the country, but had come within living memory from the Lesser Slave Lake area. Why then did they deserve reserve land here? Finally – he claimed – the reserve land was needed by “better men.” Oliver held fairly typical views of First Nations people in that day and age, and he possessed an effective vehicle (his own newspaper) in which to voice them.
Papaschase and his band petitioned the Crown unsuccessfully for their treaty rights through the early 80s, all the while setting to farming the reserve. As you can see on 1885 Street, these were lean years, and white settlers and native bands alike had frequent occasion to seek relief. Indian Agents were notoriously bureaucratic and tasked with assimilating their charges. At one point, a source suggests, the local North West Mounted Police fed the Papaschase band when the Agent refused to do so.
The same police, however, arrested Laurent Garneau during the North West Resistance of 1885 on suspicion of treason (Garneau had received a letter from his old ally Louis Riel). While Laurent stewed in prison, unable to provide for his family, Papaschase took in Eleanor Garneau and her children and kept them fed.
Papaschase and his band took no part in the uprising but, after the resistance, they became a victim of clumsy government policy. The Dominion had finally realized that a simple “Indian” or “White” distinction did not apply in the west. In an attempt to add a third definition, they instituted Métis Scrip, a one-time land or cash grant to recompense Métis for the land that now belonged to Canada and to extinguish the Métis’ own ancestral right to the land.
To struggling Cree-identified mixed-bloods like Papaschase and his band, broken treaties were becoming increasingly unattractive. In 1885 twelve members took scrip and thus exited treaty (becoming, according to the government, Métis and not Cree). In 1886, 101 more followed. Papaschase may have been among their number, but some argue that his signature is a forgery, duplicity from government agents determined to undermine the band and Cree identity’s foundations.
In 1887, with the remaining band reduced to less than 90 people – mostly women, children and old men – the agents transferred any remaining Papaschase Cree to the Enoch Reserve or others. In 1888, under questionable circumstances, three adult males of the band surrendered the reserve, the first such surrender in western Canada. Five years later, the rail-line came up from Calgary to pass through what had once been the Papaschase reserve.
Any benefit of the scrip was somewhat fleeting for an older man, and in 1904 the aging Papaschase travelled to St. Paul des Métis where he lived alongside his old friend Laurent Garneau until his death of influenza in 1918.
Today, the Papaschase First Nation continues to live and work in the Edmonton area and have faced long struggles to regain band status. They were instrumental in creating the Fort Edmonton Cemetery and Traditional Aboriginal Burial Ground in Rossdale, and Band Chief Calvin Bruneau and his kinsmen recently took part in several rallies in support of the Idle No More movement.
Any Edmontonian wishing to better understand the Idle No More and native movements would be well advised to shine their own spotlights onto men like Papaschase and the engaging and enlightening history of real people, fluid identity, and confused policy.
The Edmonton Public Library is a wonderful place to start, especially with their online exhibit of several original documents: http://www.epl.ca/aboriginal-history-documents. The Papaschase Band also has a well-organized website at www.papaschase.ca.
For a more personal part of your exploration, come down to the park this summer and find our Métis Trapper on 1885 Street to chat freely about scrip, identity and aboriginal history. If you’re lucky, you might run into our re-enactment of the arrest of Laurent Garneau or one of our other engaging programs. History’s always the topic of conversation at Fort Edmonton Park!