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Peter Erasmus

Peter Erasmus in the late 1890s Peter Erasmus, born on 27 June, 1833 was a: guide, bison hunter, translator, farmer, Indian Agent, church worker, and proud Métis. Born in Red River to a Danish father and part Ojibwa mother, Erasmus had a rich and memorable life; and would end up playing a key role during the Treaty 6 negotiations in 1876. Erasmus spoke many languages including: English, Latin, Greek, and six Aboriginal languages; making him very well-suited to be an interpreter and translator. His father worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and shortly after his death in 1849, Erasmus went to work with his uncle, the Reverend Henry Budd, the first ordained Aboriginal minister, at Christ Church Anglican Mission. Erasmus’ aptitude teaching local children and translating religious texts into Cree convinced his uncle and the Anglican Bishop Anderson, that he would be an excellent candidate for the ministry. Consequently, he was sent (albeit reluctantly) to Red River to study at St. John’s School. However, after only two terms, and at the age of twenty-two, he quit his studies to accept a position as interpreter and guide for a Methodist minister, Thomas Woolsey, at Fort Edmonton. During this time he also worked as a guide and interpreter for the three-year long Palliser expedition which had begun in 1857, to survey and map much of the Northwest Territories.

In his early thirties he abandoned church work and became a trader, hunter, and trapper. With the permission of Chief Pakan (The Nut) and his band, Erasmus and his new Métis wife, Charlotte Jackson, settled at White Fish Lake, east of Victoria Settlement in what is now Alberta. They had six children together before Charlotte’s death in 1880. Erasmus remarried in 1882, and with his second wife Mary Stanley, he had three more children.

Erasmus’ reputation as a trusted member of the community and the “best interpreter in the whole Saskatchewan valley” led Cree chiefs Big Child and Star Blanket to invite him to act on their behalf during the Treaty 6 negotiations. Shortly after the meetings began, he was also hired by the Treaty Commission itself, who were very impressed with his translation skills.

Erasmus went on to try and help the Cree as they settled on their government allotted reserve land, following the treaty. He sadly watched as the bison herds disappeared and violence broke out during the Northwest Resistance of 1885.

At the age of 87, Erasmus told his life story to Henry Thompson, a Métis journalist. The manuscript was published as Buffalo Days and Nights in 1976. In it, Erasmus speaks of his support for the treaty and the transition to farming, and his criticism of the Hudson's Bay Company. Erasmus’ record of the Treaty 6 proceedings is of especial importance because he was present at the conferences of the Chiefs — making it the only written source of information from the First Nations perspective. The two other written accounts of Treaty 6 from Alexander Morris and Dr. A.G. Jackes make no mention of Poundmaker’s resistance to the treaty.

Erasmus spent his final years with one or another of his children, passing away in 1931 at the age of 97 at Whitefish Lake. In 1930, a year before his death, the Geographic Board of Canada named Mount Erasmus in the Canadian Rockies after him, a tribute to a notable figure in the history of Alberta.


Sources:
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