Chief Papaschase – Edmontonian In the Spotlight – Pt 1.
Come with us now to those complex days of yesteryear, when the mud streets of Edmonton knew the tread of moccasin and shoe in nearly equal numbers. Our spotlight turns today onto the struggle of an Edmontonian whose name is known by many, but perhaps not his story: Papaschase, a leader whose very identity was caught up in the eddies of history.
Papaschase was born in Central Alberta around 1838 to two Cree who possessed European names alongside those of their native tongue: John Quinn and Lizette Gladu. As you’ll know if you’ve visited our 1846 Fort and Cree Encampment, by the mid-19th century the worlds of the Cree and the European-descended traders were deeply entwined and mixed blood was common both inside and outside the Fort walls. Identity was determined more by how one lived than from whom one was descended. Papaschase and his parents, while they bore ‘Christian’ names, lived in a Cree manner and so were considered Cree.
As a boy, Papaschase may well have visited Fort Edmonton as we have reconstructed it, bringing in pelts or meat to trade with his family, or purchasing European goods on account with a sure promise to bring the furs in the Spring. He may have met (or peeked at from behind his parents) many of the people we portray: John Rowand, bold and blustering; John Harriott, who spoke Cree so fluently; Louise Umphreville, the first lady of the Fort; orFrancois Lucier, the Fort’s most accomplished horse guard.
As a young man, Papaschase was said to have been an accomplished warrior in the struggles between the Nehiyawak (Cree) and the Nitsitapii (Blackfoot Confederacy). In 1858, at the age of 20, he married Julia Batoche at Edmonton and may have had at least one other wife and many children. The decline of the bison herds increased with his years, and he likely looked to the future with some concern.
After the Great Transfer of 1870, Papaschase met Laurent Garneau, after whom a prominent southside Edmonton neighbourhood is named. Garneau was also of mixed-blood, but identified as Métis. He spent his youth in Michigan and Manitoba, but had come west to Edmonton after taking part in the Red River Resistance. The two would become lifelong friends and aid each other through hardship.
In 1877, Papaschase was chief of his own band of over 200 Cree and, with his brother Tahkoots, signed an adhesion to Treaty 6 at Fort Edmonton. But the wheels of government move slowly, and it wasn’t until 1880 that a federal surveyor calculated that the band was entitled to 126 square kilometres, and not until 1884 that the reserve land (much of what is now southern Edmonton) was surveyed. In the meantime the band struggled with famine during the hardscrabble 1880s. They held a Sun Dance on Rossdale Flats, where a traditional Aboriginal burial ground was located, and may have ranged as far south as Montana in search of bison. When they prepared to move onto their new reserve, conflict quickly arose.
It was a struggle that would create a simmering cauldron of resentment and tension, and define the future of Edmonton, as well as the very identities of over 200 people.
Stay tuned for Part II!