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Cree Reserves

Most Plains Cree in Alberta are of bands which entered into Treaty Six initially signed in 1876 at Fort Carlton just across the Saskatchewan border. By 1879-80 the effects of disease and the depletion of the buffalo herds which were central to the Plains economy, had taken their toll and many Cree people began moving to reserves where a better life was promised (Sask. I.C.C., p. 28). Treaty Six led to numerous reserves in central Alberta (For a full list of Cree reserves in central and northern Alberta see Appendix B).

Saddle Lake I.R. # 125, about one hundred and fifty kilometres east of Edmonton, is one Plains Cree reserve where the name seems to be an anglicized version of a Cree name. The most obvious geographical feature on the reserve is Saddle Lake for which the Cree name is "Unechekekeskwapewin" roughly translating as "dark objects sitting on the ice" (DB). After the signing of Treaty Six, four bands (Saddle Lake, Whitefish. Blue Quills and Wahsatenaw) were amalgamated into one to create this reserve (GNCA, p. 133). The nearby village of Waskatenau may have been named for one of these original four bands, although it is also noted that "Waskatenau" is the Cree word meaning "opening in the banks" (DB). Nearby Waskatenau Creek opens into the North Saskatchewan River.

Kehiwin I.R. # 123, twenty kilometres south of Bonnyville, is one of several reserves named to commemorate a chief who signed Treaty Six on behalf of his people. Chief Kehewin (note the spelling) signed Treaty Six in 1876 (GNCA, p. 121).

Treaty Eight, the first Signing of which was two miles from where the town of Grouard now sits, resulted in even more Cree reserves further north. Drift Pile 1. R. # 150 is a northern reserve whose inhabitants are Woodland Cree. The reserve is situated not far from Grouard on the southern edge of Lesser Slave Lake and is named for Driftpile Creek which passes through the reserve. The name is said to be a translation of the Cree "Mit-tow-et--tocow" a reference to accumulations of wood on the river (DB). The reserve was allocated to five Cree bands after they signed Treaty Eight.

Fox Lake and John D'Or Prairie I.R.s # 162 and 215 both belong to the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta. The two reserves are perhaps thirty kilometres apart on the Peace River east of Fort Vermilion which illustrates how far north the Woodland Cree presence is in Alberta. Both of these names have interesting origins.

We are told John D'Or Prairie is named for a Cree who was known as 'Weskwatemapow, or in English, "Someone who sits by the door." Weskwatemapow, we are told, was an orphan raised by a Cree family and named for his preference to sit by the door of his step-parents' tepee. The current spelling seems to be a manipulation of the English word "door" yielding the French "D'Or" (DB). Information about the Fox Lake reserve suggests some confusion over which body of water the reserve was named after. Field research in 1983 (Geographical Names) established that the lake officially named Fox Lake is actually known locally as "Muskiko Sakahikan" meaning Muskeg Lake.

Some Cree who populated the interior north of Lesser Slave Lake appear to have been overlooked by early treaty commissioners and therefore don't have reserves. Indians of the Lubicon Lake Band are an example. However, the recent formation of the Woodland Cree Band has brought some of these people into Treaty Eight and will result in three more reserves being created in the Lesser Slave Lake region.5

Cree populations declined after the move to reserves and when populations were low, pressure was often applied to sell reserve lands to the government so as to be made available to settlers (Sask. ICC, p. 29 and Dempsey, p. 56). According to Palmer, "from 1900 to 1914 several bands accepted federal government offers of cash for land, and Alberta bands gave up roughly 500 out of 3,000 square miles of land" (Palmer, p.102).

Cree reserves which were affected include the Enoch (formerly Tommy La Potec Reserve), Saddle Lake, Bobtail, Samson and Muddy Bull Reserves. In the 1890s the Papaschase Reserve was surrendered completely and the land is now within Edmonton city limits (Dempsey, p. 56).

Notes

5.Other people without reserves in the Lesser Slave Lake interior include those at Cadotte Lake, named for an early fur trader (DB). The hamlet came into being at an intersection of trails perhaps in the early 1800s. It has been a Cree-Metis community although a relocation program reduced the number of Native residents (Goddard). Also, nearby Loon Lake is an Indian community whose population in 1971 was 135 residents. Testimony of one elder born in 1913 suggests the people of Loon and Cadotte lakes always belonged to the Lubicon Cree band while people of Trout. Peerless, Chipewyan and Sandy lakes were unrelated to the Lubicon (Goddard, p. 1).


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