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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Peter Erasmus

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Peter Erasmus, interpreter for Treaty Six, was extraordinary for his involvement in some of the major events in what is now Alberta. He was born in Red River in 1833 of a Danish father, who he was named for, and a Hudson’s Bay Company Métis. We know from his own writing that he was the nephew of Reverend Henry Budd,1 the first ordained Native minister in the Anglican church. He was chosen as one of the few children in the next generation who would be offered a college education in return for dedicating their lives to the ministry.

Feeling he did not have the necessary dedication, he was on the point of leaving school when he was asked to go and assist Reverend Woolsey, a Methodist minister, working out of Edmonton. He acted as guide and interpreter for Woolsey more or less continuously until 1862 when he was replaced by Mr. Monkman. While he was employed by Rev. Woolsey, the Palliser expedition borrowed him to assist Dr. James Hector. This he did ably for two years. After refusing an offer to accompany them to England as an example of native people, Erasmus spent some time with other Metis acquaintances in the goldfields of B.C.

When he finally married and settled down, it was in the community of Whitefish Lake, east of Victoria Settlement. The community had been begun by Reverend Steinhauer. He was living there during the Resistance in 1870 in Red River, but due to its relative isolation, the community was much more troubled by the terrible smallpox epidemic that year than they were by political troubles.

Mistawasis AhtahkakoopIt was as a trusted member of that community that he was asked, by Mistawasis (Big Child) and Ah-tuk-a-kup (Star Blanket), to translate for them for the upcoming treaty. They knew that the time would soon come when they would meet with the Commissioners, and wished to have someone they trusted be at their side. They made the request a year ahead of time, and when the Commissioners were on their way to Fort Carlton, they sent their sons to bring Erasmus.

When they arrived at Carlton, he was happy to meet old friends among the huge crowd, not only Big Child and Star Blanket, but many people he had come to know from his travels, including his little sister. There were over 250 teepees in the First Nations camp, as well as a crowd of traders hoping to gain something by being there.

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